Let’s take a look at where each team has excelled during the 2012 regular season. We’ll also see which team is more proficient in each category of the game.
We will start with the offense.
In Cincinnati’s passing game, quarterback Andy Dalton has started all 16 games. He has passed for 3,669 yards and has 27 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. That has led to a season quarterback rating of 87.4.
In Houston’s passing game, quarterback Matt Schaub has started 15 of 16 games this season. He has passed for 4,008 yards and has 22 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. That leads to a 90.7 quarterback rating.
Both quarterbacks have had less-than-stellar performances during the past three weeks. However, the advantage in the air attack goes to Houston, as Schaub has been more limited in committing turnovers this year.
In the Bengals running game, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is trying to return to full strength off of a hamstring injury He had gained more than 100 yards on the ground in four of his six previous games for Cincinnati. That is despite his mediocre 14 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 16.
Arian Foster is the well-known running back for the Texans, followed by Ben Tate to bring a very dangerous tandem on the ground. Foster is the workhorse for Houston and will have a huge impact on the winner in this game.
The advantage in this matchup has to go to the Texans, as their running duo has the capability to carry the offense unlike that of any other team. Well, except for Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings.
On to the defense.
The Bengals' pass defense is currently ranked seventh. The secondary has played extremely well since recovering some of their starters from injuries early on in the season. Per game, the pass defense is allowing a total of just 212.5 yards, which is about 10 yards less than the Bengals manage themselves.
Houston’s pass defense is allowing 225.8 yards per game, which is good for 16th in the league this year. This ranking has slipped a bit in recent weeks due to some injuries to the Texans secondary.
The edge should obviously go to the Bengals here. They are healthier, and more importantly, playing better. Matt Schaub will have a difficult time attacking the Bengals through the air, especially with the pressure he will have to face in passing situations.
Now, the rush defense.
The Bengals’ rush defense is allowing just 107.2 yards per game, which is 12th in the NFL this season. They have been very productive under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
Meanwhile in Houston, the Texans are allowing just 97.5 yards per game on the ground. They have a seventh-ranked rush defense to go along with that solid number. J.J. Watt is inhuman.
This one is very close. The Bengals have actually been playing better defense against the run down the stretch, even against teams like Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the final two weeks. However, I think the Texans will be given a slight edge in this one, based on the numbers.
The special teams remains fairly even for the two teams, although Adam “Pacman” Jones has the potential to create some fireworks returning punts for the Bengals. A big play by either team in this category could easily be the difference-maker in a close game like this.
As far as the coaching, I would be willing to give a slight edge to the Bengals in this game. That’s because the Bengals have a secret weapon in DC Mike Zimmer. He has the uncanny ability to use man coverage in a strong secondary while sending a linebacker blitz. The creativity and rigor that could land him in a head coaching job next season could also send the Bengals on their way to a win this Saturday.
The game may ultimately depend on three factors. The first is the lines for each team. This is going to be a football game of which team can control the line of scrimmage.
The second will be whether Andy Dalton can attack a permeable Texans secondary. The Texans have suffered injuries throughout their defense, and the Bengals pass attack will need to expose that if they want to win.
The final factor will be the struggling Texans offense against the surging Bengals defense.
Momentum always plays a huge role in the playoffs. If that’s the case in this game, the Bengals will enjoy entering this contest winners of seven of their last eight games. That could bode well for them as they face a team ending the season losing three of their last four.
Wild Card Weekend starts in Houston at 4:30 p.m. If the Texans win, it will be back-to-back Wild Card victories against the Bengals that will send them into a rematch against the New England Patriots. If Cincinnati wins its rematch, the team will grab its first playoff win since January 6, 1991.