|Written by Chris Coleman.
After winning 11 of their first 12 games, the Houston Texans have lost three of four and enter the playoffs with a bigger limp than any team in the NFL.
Just two weeks ago, they were inches from being home for the entire playoff run. Instead, they will get one chance in the cozy confines of home before possibly taking the road to wintry Denver or Boston.
Their opponent should look familiar. For the second time in two years, the Texans start the playoffs by hosting the Cincinnati Bengals. The biggest difference between this year and last for the Texans is that they have their starting quarterback back in action. Matt Schaub missed last year’s playoffs due to injury. The bad news: Schaub looks like an injured player.
He threw two interceptions and zero touchdowns last week in a must-win game against Indianapolis. That zero was a repeat from the week before against the Vikings. And looks pretty similar to the zero he put up against the New England Patriots. In the past four games, Schaub, who started the season as one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL, has only thrown one touchdown. That doesn’t win playoff games.
Schaub has more experience than his counterpart on the other sideline, but Bengals QB Andy Dalton actually has more playoff experience. It will be Schaub’s first playoff game, while Dalton was at the helm in the Bengals 31-10 loss last year in Houston.
Dalton may not look like Joe Montana, but he has led the Bengals to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in 30 years. Dalton looked horrible last year against a rabid Texans defense, but having seen their pressure, he should be a little more acclimated this time around.
"Personally, I'm a lot more confident," said Dalton, who threw for more touchdowns than Schaub this year. "I've experienced it. I know the atmosphere I'm going in to. This team as a whole has gotten better from the experience we have now."
Dalton can expect a day fill of pressure and hands-up from J.J. Watt, who finished the season with 20 ½ sacks and bats down balls all day long. If Dalton can’t get the ball to A.J. Green, the Bengals may have trouble getting their offense off the ground once again.
The Bengals know about getting to the quarterback. They had 51 sacks in the NFL this year, the third best in league, with tackle Geno Atkins racking up 12 ½ and end Michael Johnson putting up just one fewer, at 11 ½. Those numbers should get the attention of Schaub, who has spent much of the past few games on his back. He was sacked 12 times during that ugly four-game stretch.
That means he will be looking to hand the ball off to Arian Foster a lot to give him some space. I expect a big game from Foster and also from Andre Johnson, as the big man dashes across the middle of the field on quick slant routes. This season meant a lot to Johnson, who finally got healthy and wants to get the opportunity to be a bigger contributor in the playoffs this year. I expect Johnson to be a difference maker, with one big broken tackle possibly being the key to a game-winning touchdown.
The Texans looked great earlier in the season. The gutted out a bunch of wins when they could have been written off. They are not a 14-2 team, but they aren’t a 10-6 team, either. The Texans may have gotten written off a little too soon this year.
They showed their youth when they bought their letterman jackets a couple of months ago. The rookie move showed they don’t know how to play with the lead. But I bet this game they show they know how to play with a chip on their shoulder.
The line: Texans -4 ½
The pick: Bengals
Last updated on January 04, 2013.