The regular season has finished and all the play-off slots have been decided. First up are the Cincinnati Bengals at the AFC South Champions the Houston Texans (-4 Match handicap). When Houston played the Bengals in the regual season they clinched their first divisional title for their first playoff appearance. Since that 20-19 victory at the beginning of December the Texans have failed to win a game and will enter the wildcard play-off game on a 3 game losing streak.
Making just his second career start after Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart suffered season-ending injuries in consecutive weeks, Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates led fourth-quarter scoring drives of 83 and 80 yards, respectively, in a 20-19 come-from-behind victory at Cincinnati in December. A victory which extended Houston's franchise-record winning streak to seven.
The coach has stated they were lucky to pick up the victory and the divisional title but considering the injuries they have had lucky is not a word that can be readily applied to the Texans this season. Arian Foster was third in the NFL with 1,841 yards from scrimmage, but he missed games at the start of the season with a hamstring injury. Houston has not had All-Pro linebacker Mario Williams in the lineup since October following his season-ending injury, while All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson has played just seven games due to injuries to both hamstrings.
Johnson returned in Sunday's 23-22 loss to the Titans following a three-game absence, but QB Yates played just one series after suffering a bruised left shoulder when he was sacked on his first snap. He is however expected to start tonight’s game with Jake Delhomme providing the cover.
The Bengals (9-7) enter the postseason for the third time since 2005, but are looking to advance for the first time since a 41-14 wild-card victory over the Houston Oilers in 1991. The Bengals need losses by the Jets and the Broncos to claim a play-off berth and despite losing to Baltimore in their final game the other results went their way.
The Bengals (+4 Match handicap) struggled in the regular season against play-off teams and had and 0-7 record. But they will be hopeful that rookie duo of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver AJ Green (Total Match Yards) can deliver the goods again. Dalton threw for 189 yards and a TD in last month's encounter, while Green caught five passes for 59 yards. Dalton was a pro-Bowl first alternate this season and the first Bengals rookie Pro Bowler for 30 years.
But firstly their run defence will have to tighten up especially after yielding a season-high 221 yards last Sunday to the Ravens. Arian Foster (1,224) and rookie Ben Tate (942) lead the Texans' second-ranked running attack (153.0 per game).
If Cincinnati can win for the first time in five playoff road games, they will play at AFC No. 1 seed New England next weekend in the divisional round. If Houston wins they will travel to second-seeded Baltimore.