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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

NFL playoffs: Momentum doesn't favor the favorites

January 04, 2013|By Sam Farmer
  • J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans face the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs.
J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans face the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday… (Tony Gutierrez / Associated…)

Less than a month ago, the Houston Texans looked like a shoo-in for the No. 1 seeding in the AFC. Now, they’re hanging on for dear life.

The Texans have lost three of four and play host to the Cincinnati Bengals, who have won three in a row.

Cincinnati’s pass rush is particularly potent. The Bengals set a club record this season with 51 sacks, 40 by the defensive line. That stifling defense has held opponents to 13 points or fewer in six of the last eight games.

Saturday’s postseason opener is a rematch of a wild-card game a year ago, when Houston posted a 31-10 victory over the Bengals at home before losing to Baltimore in the second round.

From the perspective of Texans Coach Gary Kubiak, who watched his team struggle in December, what his players really need to do is unclench.

“I don’t want them to worry about making mistakes,” Kubiak told reporters this week. “I want them to play with reckless abandon. I want them to cut it loose.”

A lot to tackle

In their last two playoff appearances, the Bengals struggled to stop the run. The New York Jets’ Shonn Greene ran for 135 yards and a touchdown in a win over them in 2009, and last season Houston’s Arian Foster trampled them for 153 yards and two touchdowns.

Defense is a strong suit for these Bengals, who finished this season 12th against the run and sixth overall. The Texans had the league’s eighth-ranked running game this season, led by Foster, whose numbers have been down in recent games. He has failed to run for 100 yards in four of five games.

First time for everything

Houston quarterback Matt Schaub is in his ninth NFL season, but second-year Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has more postseason experience. Dalton has started one playoff game; Schaub is making his playoff debut. (He was injured for last year’s playoff games, and rookie T.J. Yates played in his place.)

Quarterbacks who threw for the most yards in their first postseason start:

 PLAYER   TEAM   YEAR   ROUND   YARDS   Kelly Holcomb   Browns   2003   Wild card   429   Aaron Rodgers   Packers   2010   Wild card   423   Randall Cunningham   Eagles   1988   Divisional   407   Kurt Warner   Rams   2000   Divisional   391   Neil Lomax   Cardinals   1983   Wild card   385 

Another view

Former NFL most valuable player Rich Gannon of CBS: “I don’t think the Texans come in feeling really good about themselves. They’ve lost a little bit of their momentum. They’ve got a quarterback who over the past four games has thrown one touchdown and three interceptions. So I think it’s absolutely critical that they get off to a good start, even at home.”

By the numbers

How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):

 Cin   Hou   POINTS SCORED   24.4 (12)   26.0 (8)   POINTS ALLOWED   20.0 (8)   20.7 (9)   PASS OFFENSE   223.6 (17)   239.4 (11)   RUSH OFFENSE   109.1 (18)   132.7 (8)   PASS DEFENSE   212.5 (7)   225.8 (16)   RUSH DEFENSE   107.2 (12)   97.5 (7)   SACKS   51 (3)   44 (T5)   PENALTIES   6.2 (12)   6.8 (T24)   TURNOVERS   +4 (11)   +12 (7) 

Farmer’s pick
Schaub hasn’t been himself lately, and he’s missed a lot of open receivers. The Bengals are on such a roll on defense, and they have such a playmaker in receiver A.J. Green, they’re primed to pull off the upset and pick up their first playoff victory since 1990.

BENGALS 24, TEXANS 21

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