Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Why Game Is a Must-Win for Cincinnati

Scott SewellCorrespondent IDecember 10, 2011

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06:  A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals stretches before the NFL game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on November 6, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Houston Texans take on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in a game overflowing with playoff implications for both teams.

The Bengals' loss to the Steelers last week dropped them to 7-5 on the season and tightened up an already crowded race for the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs.  The Bengals, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders all have identical 7-5 records.

The Texans are currently 9-3 and, on paper, seem destined to win the AFC South over the aforementioned 7-5 Titans.  

However, Houston has been decimated by injuries.  Star quarterback Matt Schaub will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a foot injury and superstar wide receiver Andre Johnson will miss yet another game because of a hamstring injury.   

If these crucial injuries begin to effect the Texans in the win column then the city of Houston could be in for an Atlanta Braves/Boston Red Sox-sized collapse in these next four weeks.

Houston plays at Cincinnati, vs. Carolina and then at Indianapolis before their season-ending game against the Titans.

The Titans play New Orleans, at Indianapolis and Jacksonville before that game.

It's very conceivable that the Texans go 1-2 in that stretch and the Titans go at least 2-1.  If that happens then that means the 10-5 Texans would be facing the 9-6 Titans in Week 17 to decide the division winner.  

The key to making this happen is Houston's game against Indianapolis.  The winless Colts would have to beat the Texans to drop their division record to 4-1 before the game against Tennessee or the Titans would have to win their remaining four games.

How does this affect Cincinnati?

Cincinnati already owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee thanks to their 24-17 victory in Week 9.  However, the Bengals must beat Houston on Sunday to gain that same tiebreaker advantage. Otherwise, the potentially 10-6 Bengals would lose out on the sixth playoff spot to the Texans or be forced to win their last four games of the season to gain that seemingly impossible 11th victory.

Everything is in Cincinnati's favor on Sunday.  If they take care of business, protect Andy Dalton and utilize Jermaine Gresham then the Bengals could potentially extend this improbable run at least another week.  If they allow the Texans defensive linemen to dictate the flow of their offense then they will drastically weaken their playoff chances.