Cincinnati travels to Houston for the first game in what should be — fingers crossed — an exciting weekend of football. Almost exactly one year ago, the Bengals made the same trip, losing in a 31-10 blowout. One year later the expectations for both teams are considerably different.

Houston’s late season swoon — losses to New England, Minnesota and Indianapolis — cost them their first postseason bye in team history. Meanwhile the Bengals head into Saturday afternoon’s clash riding high, winning three straight games to close out the year. To the tape.

Texans Offense
Bengals Defense
Total Yards P/Game 372.1 (7th) 319.7 (6th)
Passing Yards P/Game 239.4 (11th) 212.5 (7th)
Rushing Yards P/Game 132.7 (8th) 107.2 (12th)
Bengals Offense
Texans Defense
Total Yards P/Game 332.7 (22nd) 323.2 (7th)
Passing Yards P/Game 233.6 (17th) 225.8 (16th)
Rushing Yards P/Game 109.1 (18th) 97.5 (7th)

Thoughts on the game:

  • The Bengals allowed 320 points this season, good for 20.0 points per game and a ranking of 8th in the league. Pro-Football Reference measured their expected win-loss at 9.9 -6.1. The numbers never lie.
  • Their takeaway/giveaway differential came in at plus four, good for 11th in the league. Mike Zimmer has his defensive unit playing excellent football. Buoyed by the exploits of Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson, the Bengals defensive line made life for offensive linemen extremely unpleasant. Luckily for Matt Schaub, he’s protected by one of the best group of linemen the league, including pro bowlers Chris Myers, Duane Browns and Wade Smith. This will be a matchup of the best against the best.
  • The Texans allowed 331 points this season, good for 20.7 a game and ninth in the league. They’re plus twelve in the takeaway/giveaway differential. Their expected win-loss record (10.1 and 5.9 ), however, is not as impressive.
  • Are the Texans frauds? Not completely. They benefited from an extremely weak schedule — it ranked fourth easiest before the start of the season.
  • Andre Johnson will face a pass defense that has held up well against some of the best in the league. Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker will be tasked with silencing Johnson. In five regular season games against the Bengals since 2003, Johnson has recorded three one hundred yard games. More importantly, he had five catches for 90 yards and a touchdown in last year’s wildcard game against Cincy.
  • A.J Green is equally dangerous. The Texans pass defence was destroyed by the Patriots four weeks ago. Jermaine Gresham and Green will cause Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph problems. The Texans lack of pass rush on the outside — Watt and Antonio Smith are beasts at the DT position — has made life difficult for Houston’s secondary.
  • Can the vaunted Texans offensive line deal with Vontaze Burfict? The WLB has been incredible this season, overcoming the bad reputation (deserved) he accrued as a prospect.
  • J.J Watt had an NFL high 20.5 sacks this season, two shy of the league record. Houston produced 44 sacks on year compared to 51 for the¬† Bengals — the third highest total in the league.
  • Brooks Reed and Alan Ball could return to the Texans lineup. For Cincinnatti, Terence Newman and BenJarvus Green-Ellis returned to practice¬† this week.
  • Watt has batted or tipped 16 passes this year. The next closest player has six. Five of the 16 tips led to interceptions.
  • Andy Dalton has a plus 13 TD/INT ratio when facing five or more pass rushers. Only Tom Brady has thrown more TDs in these situations.
  • How good is the Bengals defensive line? They put opposing QBs under pressure 26.5% when sending only four or few rushers in the past eight games. In those eight games opposing QBs have thrown three TDs to eight INTs and a 59.3% completion rating.
  • Matt Schaub has been all about extremes this year. In the 12 Texans’ wins his numbers (67.1 comp, 15 TDs to four INTs and 33.4 drop backs per sack) are excellent. In their losses (59 comp, 0 TDs to three INTs and 12.1 dropbacks per snap) they are terrible.