Bengals Visit Texans in Playoff Opener

Arian Foster and the Houston Texans will look to hold-off the Cincinnati Bengals in Saturday's wild-card opener.

Cincinnati travels to Houston on Saturday afternoon to take on the Texans in the first of this weekend’s four wild-card games. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 PM ET from Reliant Stadium.

The matchup marks the second year in a row the two sides have met at this stage of the postseason. Houston will look for a repeat of last year’s 31-10 victory over the Bengals, which went down in the history books as the first ever Texans playoff win, and at the first time of asking no less.

Cincinnati will simply be looking for a first playoff win since Jan. 6, 1991. Fittingly, the team the Bengals beat that day was another Houston side; a Houston Oilers team that was still eight years from upping sticks and heading to Tennessee.

The two sides meet for the eighth time in history, with the Texans holding a marginal 4-3 edge in the head-to-head.

After a somewhat tumultuous end to the season, Houston (12-4, 6-2 home) will take to the field on Saturday with a certain amount of trepidation. The Texans were frontrunners for much of the season, compiling an 11-1 record that had few wanting to face the side in the playoffs.

However, a poor end to the season – which saw the side lose three of four – not only cast doubts on the Texans’ Super Bowl credentials but also saw the side slip out of the top two AFC berths, missing out on an automatic bye. No. 1 for much of the season, Gary Kubiak’s side faces a long, tough challenge.

Cincinnati (10-6, 6-2 road) experienced a season that was almost the polar opposite of that of the Texans. An early 3-1 start was wiped-out by a four-game losing streak, leaving the Bengals looking up. Seven wins from the remaining eight games however saw Marvin Lewis’ side not only make the playoffs, but almost secure the ultra-competitive AFC North in the process. Importantly for the franchise, it was also the first time since 1981-82 that the Bengals had secured back-to-back playoff berths, and only the second time in history.

When the two sides take to the field, Houston will look to make the most of an offense that ranked No. 7 in the league in total yards gained per game (372.1) and No. 8 in scoring (26 points per game).

That offense was led by quarterback Matt Schaub, making his first postseason start having missed last year’s run through injury. Schaub threw for 4,008 yards on the season, tallying 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Arian Foster – who finished second to Adrian Peterson with 1,424 yards rushing this season – will look to build on his total of 15 touchdowns, most for any running back.

But the Texans’ offense won’t find it easy. Cincinnati surprised a lot of people with its tough defense, which allowed just 319.7 yards (6th) and 20.0 points (8th) per game. In fact, during its late season surge, the Bengals allowed just 12.8 points per game over a span of eight games.

The Bengals had their moments on offense too. Behind second-year quarterback Andy Dalton and a very balanced offense, the team dialed-up 24.4 points per game, ranking 12th in the league. That offense could be peaking at the right time too.

Houston – thanks in a big part to the Defensive Player of the Year caliber season of J.J. Watt – was one of the toughest teams defensively this year, until that final slip that is. A side that perennially ranked in the top three in points allowed throughout the season finished the year allowing 20.7 points per game (9th). Over those last four games, the Texans gave up 27.5 points per game.

Saturday’s matchup looks like it could all be about momentum. Cincinnati will hope that current momentum wins out, particularly as history hasn’t been kind to the Bengals. Cincinnati has only won once at Reliant Stadium, a victory that came in Nov. 2002, the first time the two sides met. The Bengals have dropped two straight at the stadium since that meeting.

Regardless of its struggles during the closing weeks of the season, and despite Cincinnati being one of the form teams heading into postseason play, the Texans are favorites to advance to the divisional round of the postseason.

The point spread opened at 4.5 and has since risen to five. Both sides fared well against the spread this season, each compiling a 9-6-1 ATS record. The major separation point here is current form.

Houston’s end-of-season skid was also reflected in its ability to cover the spread. The Texans only achieved that feat twice in the last seven games. Conversely, the Bengals went 7-1 against the spread in the last eight games of the season, coinciding with its 7-1 straight up record.

If current form continues, Cincinnati may well get the better of Houston on Saturday afternoon, upsetting bookmakers’ odds in the process.

The total stands at 43, having not budged since opening. Both sides saw the total go under more than over this season, with seven eight Texans games and 10 Bengals games falling below the required marker. Only one of the last eight Bengals games, and three of the last nine Texans games, has seen the total go over, which would suggest the smart money would be on taking the under in this one.

An upset for the Bengals would setup a divisional matchup with Denver in the Mile High City next Saturday (4:30 PM ET).

A win for Houston would see the Texans head back to New England on Sunday (4:30 PM ET), the site of a humiliating 42-14 loss that began the team’s current skid.

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