Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub will make his first career playoff start against the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday afternoon at Reliant Stadium as the NFL begins Wild Card weekend.
These two teams met in the first round last year, but Schaub was sidelined with a broken foot. The Texans ended up with a 31-10 victory behind T.J. Yates and 153 rushing yards from running back Arian Foster.
Of late, a performance like that is unfamiliar to Houston fans. The 12-4 Texans have lost three of their last four games, and missed every opportunity to grab the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the process. Schaub has thrown one touchdown and two picks in that stretch.
The Texans have averaged 12 points in their last three losses, but their Week 16 letdown to the Minnesota Vikings could be attributed to Foster’s irregular heartbeat. The AFC’s second leading rusher is now healthy and will meet one of the NFL’s top defenses.
Last week, Houston fell to the Indianapolis Colts 28-16, giving up a 101-yard kick-off return and a 70-yard touchdown reception and failing to score in the fourth quarter. Long scoring plays like those are uncharacteristic of a unit led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt, who led the NFL with 20.5 sacks and defended 16 passes.
The Bengals and their dominant pass rush have their own DPOY candidate in Geno Atkins, who helped Cincinnti win seven of their last eight games and is a big reason they finished the regular season third in sacks with 51.
Cincinnati made the playoffs by toppling rival Pittsburgh for the first time since 2009, and followed up that victory by dropping the Baltimore Ravens 23-17 in the regular season finale.
Second-year quarterback Andy Dalton has led the Bengals offense, tossing 13 of his 27 touchdown passes in the last eight games, but will have to get Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green into the end zone.
Green torched defenses in the first half of the season, but secondarys have draped him ever since. The 24-year-old has scored one touchdown in his last six games.
Texans cornerback, and former Bengal, Jonathan Joseph will be a key to containing Green. Houston’s pass defense, ranked 16 th in the league, will also need a huge game from team-interception leader Kareem Jackson.
With Green's production dipping, Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis stepped up with four 100-yard rushing game, a career best stretch for the five-year veteran. Green-Ellis had some hamstring trouble this week, but practiced Friday and is listed as probable.
The game kicks-off at 4:30 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast by NBC, or you can watch their live online stream on NBC All-Access here.
Betting Odds: Houston is favored by 5 points.
Over/Under: 43 points
Prediction: The Bengals defense has greatly improved this season and have one of the best pass rushes in the league. Green-Ellis has put up the best numbers of his career, and will be a huge factor for Cincinnati’s success. The Bengals will pull off the upset, if they can contain Watt and his ability to tip Dalton’s passes.
Prediction Score: Cincinnati 24, Houston 20