Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) @ Houston Texans (10-6)
(Saturday 4:30 pm ET, 1:30 pm PT)
Both teams will look to establish the ground game. Cincinnati leans on power running back Cedric Benson, going up against the a #2 ranked Wade Phillips defense. Benson doesn’t get too many yards, and the Bengals offensive line has its hands full against Connor Barwin (11.5 sacks), Antonio Smith (6.5 sacks), and J.J. Watt (5.5 sacks). If I wasn’t name-dropping enough, this defense is led by linebackers Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans. The rookie connection of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will need to get the best of the pass rush and in a Pro Bowl matchup; Green will go up against cornerback Jonathan Joseph.
As for the Texans, they will look no further than diamond in the rough running back Arian Foster, and his 1-2 punch with Ben Tate. This tandem forms the #2 rushing attack in all of football, and they will go head-to-head with the Bengals 7th ranked defense. Houston loves to pound the ball on the ground and set up the playaction to playmaker Andre Johnson. Cincinnati has their own defensive playmakers, and they too have a strong linebacking core of: Rey Maualuga, Thomas Howard, and Manny Lawson. This team can also get after the quarterback: Geno Atkins (8 sacks), Jonathan Fanene (6 sacks), Michael Johnson (5.5 sacks), and Carlos Dunlap (4.5 sacks).
I believe this is going to be a low-scoring affair to kick off the postseason. They say defense wins championships and that will be the recipe for these 2 teams going forward. Houston has a more balanced offensive attack and a better overall defense as they play their first playoff game in franchise history at home. I love this team’s Superbowl chances with Matt Schaub, but considering he was shut down for the season, they will have their hands full with the Cardiac Bengals. These 2 teams are very similar: great defense, run the ball, elite receiver. Cincinnati lost cornerback Leon Hall to injury, and I like the Texans to win their first playoff game with T.J. Yates at the helm.
Score Prediction: Texans 20, Bengals 13