For the second time in as many seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals will travel to Houston to take on the Texans in one of the two AFC wild-card games.
When last they met, Houston won going away by a score of 31-10, but these are two completely different teams than they were back then.
Houston, a team that only three weeks ago looked like a lock for a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs finds itself limping into this game, having dropped three of its last four games and looking very much like a team that has lost its way.
Cincinnati on the other hand has been on fire, winners of each of its last three games and seven of its last eight, a last-second field goal by the Dallas Cowboys away from being in the midst of an eight-game winning streak.
As two teams headed in completely opposite directions get set to meet, let's take a look at everything you need to know heading into the first AFC playoff game of the season.
When: Saturday, January 5 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas
Listen: ESPN 1530 AM (Cincinnati), SportsRadio 610 AM (Houston), SiriusXM: 86 or 92
Spread: Houston (-4.5) via Covers.com
The Texans have a 9-7 mark against the spread this year and are especially reliable at home, posting a 6-2 mark covering the spread.
But Cincinnati is no slouch either, going 9-6-1 on the season and an equally impressive 6-2 mark against the spread on the road.
This one's all about personal preference and who you think is going to win the game. With the way that Houston has played over the past month, it's hard to take them in any game, regardless of where it's being played.
Look for the Bengals to win outright.
Over/Under: 43 points via Covers.com
Houston has averaged 26 points per game this season while Cincinnati isn't too far behind at 24.4 per contest.
Yet over the last four games, neither team has been able to hit those season averages, with Houston averaging 16.25 points per game, Cincinnati 22.25 points per game.
With the season hanging in the balance and both defenses fired up for this one, take the under.
Cincinnati Bengals (via the team's official Twitter account):
Houston Texans (courtesy of Nick Scufield of HoustonTexans.com via Twitter):
ILB Tim Dobbins (ankle) & G Antoine Caldwell (back) did not practice today. Everybody else did for the #Texans— Nick Scurfield (@NickScurfield) January 3, 2013
Key to Victory for Cincinnati: Get Into Houston's Backfield
Cincinnati has a very deep, talented defensive line, one that is not only adept at stuffing the run but getting to the quarterback as well.
The amazing thing about the Bengals is that they typically don't have to blitz to create pressure, as it's close to impossible for an offensive lineman to block Cincinnati's defenders one-on-one.
Specifically, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Michael Johnson, who have a combined 105 tackles (35 for loss), 24 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception on the season.
The pair must win their individual battles and get into the Texans backfield, stuffing the run and harassing quarterback Matt Schaub. Doing so will free up the team's excellent group of linebackers to make plays, including Vontaze Burfict, who is in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
If the Bengals are able to force Schaub to beat them with his arm, Cincinnati will be in excellent shape to win this game, as Schaub is more of a game manager than a playmaker.
Key to Victory for Houston: Secondary Must Step Up
After starting the season off strong, Houston's secondary has struggled as of late, especially when Houston's pass rush isn't getting consistent pressure on the quarterback.
While the unit hasn't been surrendering a tremendous amount of yardage over its last four games, allowing an average of 210 passing yards per contest, the group has been scorched for nine passing touchdowns—and not recorded an interception.
If Houston cannot make things difficult in the passing game—especially in the red zone—it will be a long afternoon for the Texans.
Houston has looked awful over the past month, while Cincinnati has played at a high level since beating the New York Giants back in Week 10.
While Arian Foster is a force to be reckoned with in Houston's backfield, he alone cannot beat the Bengals, and it's hard to have any faith in Matt Schaub putting the team on his back and leading them to victory.
While Houston has won each of its last four games against the Bengals, including last year's Wild Card contest, that streak will come to an end on Saturday afternoon.
Cincinnati 24, Houston 13
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!