Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has played well enough to get the Bengals… (Tony Tribble / Associated…)
The NFL is so unpredictable it's hard to bank on anything. But we know this much heading into wild-card weekend: the winner of the Cincinnati-Houston game will have a rookie starting at quarterback.
That's because, for the first time in NFL history, a playoff game features two first-year starting quarterbacks — the Bengals' Andy Dalton and the Texans' T.J. Yates.
What's more Yates, a fifth-round pick, will be the first rookie quarterback drafted in the fifth round or later to start a playoff game in the era of the common draft.
The Bengals are familiar with seeing rookie quarterbacks in the postseason. Two years ago, Jets rookie Mark Sanchez was 12 for 15 for 182 yards and a touchdown in New York's 24-14 victory at Cincinnati in the first round of the playoffs.
This is the first playoff game in the history of the Texans.
Dalton and Yates knew each other before they got to the pros. They were counselors at the Manning Passing Academy when they were heading into their senior seasons in college. The 11 rookie quarterbacks to start a playoff game (since 1966):
Quarterback / Year / Team / Advanced
Dan Marino / 1983 / Miami / Divisional
Bernie Kosar / 1985 / Cleveland / Divisional
Jim Everett / 1986 / L.A. Rams / Wild Card
Todd Marinovich / 1991 / L.A. Raiders / Wild Card
Shaun King / 1999 / Tampa Bay / NFC Championship
Ben Roethlisberger / 2004 / Pittsburgh / AFC championship
Joe Flacco / 2008 / Baltimore / AFC championship
Matt Ryan / 2008 / Atlanta / Wild Card
Mark Sanchez / 2009 / N.Y. Jets / AFC championship
Andy Dalton / 2011 / Cincinnati
T.J. Yates / 2011 / Houston
Less than a month ago, the Texans rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Bengals, 20-19, in Cincinnati.
Yates directed field-goal and touchdown drives of 83 and 80 yards to lead Houston back from a 19-10 deficit in the final quarter, clinching the victory with a six-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Walter with two seconds left.
Bengals safety Chris Crocker is ready to purge that memory.
"If you go out and play well, then everyone forgets," Crocker told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "It's one of those things, if you get an F and the next week you get an A, everyone forgets the F."
Bengals rookie receiver A.J. Green is already among the most exciting players in the NFL, stretching his 6-foot-4 frame to make incredible grabs. He was targeted seven times in the first game against the Texans and caught five balls for 59 yards. He'll see a lot of Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph, formerly of the Bengals, who will try to cling to him like Velcro.
A few statistics on the matchup from ProFootballFocus.com:
--Green is the most penalized receiver in the league with 10, eight of which have been procedural, such as false starts and illegal formations.
--When not blitzed, Dalton has 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. When blitzed, he has eight touchdowns and only two interceptions.
--Arian Foster might have more yards than fellow Texans running back Ben Tate, but Tate has forced 28 missed tackles to Foster's 25, on far fewer carries (175 carries for Tate, 278 for Foster).
NBC's Cris Collinsworth: "I think it's going to be less about the young quarterbacks and more about the running backs. Whichever team can take the game off the shoulders of their young quarterback probably ends up being the winner."
By the numbers
How the teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for turnover differential, which is for the season (league rank in parentheses):
Category / Bengals / Texans
Points scored / 21.5 (18) / 238.0 (10)
Points allowed / 20.2 (9) / 17.4 (4)
Pass offense / 208.8 (20) / 219.1 (18)
Rush offense / 111.1 (19) / 153.0 (2)
Pass defense / 211.6 (9) / 189.7 (3)
Rush defense / 104.7 (10) / 96 (4)
Sacks / 45 (5) / 44 (6)
Penalties / 6.2 (14) / 6.2 (13)
Turnovers / E (17) / +7 (7)
The Bengals got to Yates in the first game, sacking him five times and hitting him five more. If they can do that again, they'll have a better chance of throwing him off his game, as he's nursing a separated non-throwing shoulder.? Bengals 21, Texans 16