The 3rd seeded Houston Texans will host the Cincinnati Bengals in a matchup of rookie QB's, one by design and one due to injury. The Houston Texans are backing into the playoffs. After starting the year 10-3 the Texan drop three and its seems due to injury, lack of experience, and new wrinkles becoming old wrinkles, hence easily exposed by opposing teams. With Matt Schaub going down for the season for the third season in five for the Texans, the team turn to Matt Leinhart, who immediately went down with a season ender of his own to settle on T.J. Yates, the first year quarterback out of North Carolina and the ACC. Yates saw success in his first four games with four wins in a row, with a limited offense, Andre Johnson was in and out and Arian Foster was limited) and did well to keep the Texans in line to capture their first division championship and and playoff appearance. But after three losses and serious injuries to the prior players noticed as well as defensive end Mario Williams, the 2006 overall pick and perennial sack threat. The fact they were able to survive these injuries and continue to win is a testament to their coaches and toughness.
The Cincinnati Bengals, after much scrutiny centered around the retention of Coach Marvin Lewis, stance on Carson Palmer and trading of Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals entered the season with many questions and plenty to prove. But with the amazing rookie season put up by TCU product of Andy Dalton and big play ability of fellow rooie A.J. Green out of Georgia, the Bengals surprised the NFL to the tune of a 9-7 record and playoff birth. A defense that semed to grow up this year position by position, due to the removal of players detremental to locker room environment and team mentality, rankd 7th in the league and fought division foes and perennial playoff contenders Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens to tough losses and proved they belonged.
A matchup in week 14 saw the two rookie QB's square off in what amounted to a playoff preview of the this weeks coming matchup, this time set in Houston rather than the Queen City of Cincy. The Houston Texans are the only team in the playoffs that can claima top ten spot in Defense, Offense and Margin of Victory, a major indicator of playoff success. However, it may seem difficult to get a read on the Texans true abilities and how they will do in their first ever playoff game. A respectable 320 yards per game with Yates under center gives hope to a team that lost key players on offense, but it was against 3 teams in the top 15 in defense yards per game and 3 against teams outside of it, showing if nothing else consistency. But an 18 pont per game average 15 field goals to 9 touchdowns shows that their ability to punch it in for a touchdown needs to improve if they are to have a shot against a Bengals defense that is adept at getting to the quarterback (5th in sacks) and at holding the run (10th). However, the same defense is 25th in redzone defense. Adding the return of a healthy Arian Foster and Andre Johnson could spell success for the Texans 25th ranked Redzone offense. As long as the solid performance of the Houston Texans line holds up they can put up enough points to win in what looks to be a tough and close battle.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have stolen the spot light from the the rest of the offense, and the likes of Cedric Benson (1,000 yard rusher and top pass blocker) as well Jerome "Front Flippin" Simpson are great complements to the rookies on offense, as well a second Oklahoma Tight End Jerome Gresham. Dalton has the targets and the time necessary (4rd lowest sack total by offensive line at 25 allowed) to reach his targets and convert scoring drives, but his accuracy and ability hit big plays on a sack fast 3-4 defense will be key for the Texans offense to score. Dalton has shown his rookeie streak by showing an inability at times to focus early on in games and has been taken out early of a few games because of it. His focus and leadership need to be unwavering for the Texans to have a chance against a defense ranked 9th in Redzone D and has 45 sacks on the season.
All in all, this game will be simialr to the week 14 matchup, with this game coming down to last minute dramatics. Look for Arian Foster to have a solid game on the ground and through the air against marginal Bengal Linebackers and for J.J. Watt to make big plays on defense for the Texans. A.J. Green will get his share of highlights as well as the Bengal O but the Texans will pull out their first game at home with the classic playoff formula of running, defense and ball control.
Final Score: Houston Texans 27 Cincinnati Bengals 23