The Houston Texans had an epic collapse this season, beginning the year 11-1 and then losing three of their last four games to fall from the top seed to the three-seed and being forced to play this wild card weekend vs. the 10-6 Cincinnati Bengals, whose only loss in the last eight games was by one point to the Dallas Cowboys on a last-second field goal. Despite the way these teams finished the year, Houston is a 4-point home favorite at home with the total set at 43.
TEXANS – BENGALS PLAYOFFS BETTING LINE:
OPEN: TEXANS -5 | CURRENT: TEXANS -4.5 | O/U: 43
1. Why Cincinnati will cover the spread: Cincinnati will cover this spread if it can contain Arian Foster and put the Texans into third-and-long situations. The Bengals ranked in the middle of the pack in run defense at 12th during the year, allowing 107.9 yards per game on an ordinary 4.1 yards per carry, but they dropped that average to 3.6 YPC over the last three games.
If Cincinnati is successful in creating obvious passing situations, then the Bengals have possibly the best defensive tackle in all of football in Geno Atkins, who anchored a front seven which had an outstanding 51 sacks this year, just one behind the NFL co-leading Denver Broncos and St. Louis Rams with 52 apiece. A second key for the Bengals is running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis returning effectively after missing the season finale with a hamstring injury.
2. Why Houston will cover the spread: The Texans will cover the spread if they return to playing the aggressive, physical defense they played earlier in the year. While it looks like the defense has maintained its numbers on paper, as Houston is allowing only 294.0 yards per game over the last three weeks, the truth of the matter is that when it counted the most, the Texans allowed a 70-yard touchdown pass on third-and-23 to T.Y. Hilton and the Colts last week in a game where they could have wrapped up a top seed vs. an Indianapolis team that was already locked into a five-seed, and they then could not make any third-down stops on the Colts’ final drive.
3. Total Talk: The Houston defense simply did not pass the eye test last week despite allowing only 265 total yards, so do not be surprised to see a big game here by possibly the best receiver in the AFC this year in A.J. Green, especially if Green-Ellis, who is listed as probable, is effective enough for Houston to respect the run. At the same time, as well as the Bengals played in the second half of the year, they faced the second easiest schedule in the NFL according to the Sagarin Ratings, ironically ahead of only another playoff team in the Colts.
We are picking the Bengals to cover but to lose the game outright in a nail-biter, and we expect a fairly high scoring game because Matt Schaub also has a nice target when given the time in Andre Johnson.
4. Betting Trends for Texans/Bengals: Cincinnati is 7-1 ATS in its last eight games overall and 5-0 ATS in its last five conference games. The ‘over’ is 9-1 in the Bengals’ last 10 games after gaining less than 150 passing yards in their previous game.
Houston 24 – Cincinnati 23
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