While the Texans will enter the contest cold, Cincinnati is scorching after winning seven out of its last eight games. Houston is capable of recapturing its status as a top Super Bowl contender with just one win. But if the Bengals are too hot to handle, its campaign will just as easily go up in smoke.
Here’s everything you need to know about this win-or-go-home showdown.
Where: Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas
When: Saturday, Jan. 5 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Betting Line: TBA
What’s At Stake?
A culture change.
Houston has won one playoff game in franchise history. Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990.
Both teams are talented and have a bright future, but until the Texans and Bengals become used to winning in January, it’ll be that much more difficult to win in January. The postseason is a different animal and neither has yet to conquer it.
Bengals Injury Report (As of Dec. 30, via ESPN)
Chris Crocker (leg), S, Doubtful
Texans Injury Report (As of Dec. 30 via ESPN)
None to report
Fantasy Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em and Sleeper
Start: Owen Daniels
Cincinnati has recorded the sixth-most sacks in the NFL this season. That means Matt Schaub will want to get the ball out of his hands as fast as possible which will result in Daniels receiving more targets than usual.
Sit: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, Green-Ellis is a mediocre starting halfback to begin with. To top it off, he’ll be running into the Texans’ seventh-ranked run defense which surrenders less than 100 yards a game.
Sleeper: Andrew Hawkins
While Houston’s run defense is elite, its pass defense is vulnerable. A.J. Green can’t catch every ball—Hawkins could take advantage of all the attention on Green and Jermaine Gresham.
What They’re Saying
Scott Kacsmar addressed Matt Schaub’s recent struggles stating history isn’t on the Texans’ side.
This is the fear all Houston fans should have had. Matt Schaub's been in the league for 9 years and has no major wins.— Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback) December 30, 2012
Even though Houston may be the more talented team on paper, Jeff Risdon believes the Bengals' momentum will be too much to overcome.
Bengals Player to Watch: A.J. Green
If Green doesn’t dominate the NFL for years to come, Cincinnati did something wrong.
The second-year wideout cemented himself as a superstar this season reeling in 97 balls for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns. He must leave his imprint on the game for the Bengals to advance. But given that Green has either caught a touchdown and/or went over 100 receiving yards in 12 different games this season, that won’t be a problem.
Texans Player to Watch: J.J. Watt
Watt is virtually a shoe-in for Defensive Player of the Year after leading the Texans in tackles and recording a whopping 20.5 sacks this season. The 6’5”, 295-pound defensive end has arguably been the most dominant player in the entire NFL.
Cincinnati has allowed the sixth-most sacks in the league this year too, so Watt will be in position to do plenty of damage.
Key Matchup: Arian Foster vs. Vontaze Burfict
With Schaub struggling, Houston must lean on Foster early against the Bengals. He’s been a workhorse this season rushing for 1,424 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Ironically, in the undrafted halfback turned superstar’s way will be another player nobody wanted on draft day, Burfict. The former Arizona State troublemaker led the Bengals with 127 tackles in 2012. He’s a leader of a Bengals’ front seven which has been elite as of late.
On the Hot Seat: Gary Kubiak
Kubiak’s job isn’t in danger. But if the Texans lose this game, you better believe he’ll be on the hot seat entering next season.
Houston is simply too talented from top to bottom to have won just one playoff game the past two seasons—that’d of course be the case if it loses.
Houston has had its wake-up call. Its defense is extremely close in caliber to Cincinnati’s, but the Texans have a superior rushing attack. As long as Andy Dalton doesn’t embarrass Schaub in their QB duel, the home team will bounce back and advance.
Houston by 3
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.