Texans, Bengals heading in opposite directions

Texans, Bengals heading in opposite directions
January 2, 2013, 4:30 pm
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The Texans are playing this weekend. And that alone is cause for concern.

After jumping out of the gate with an 11-1 record, the Texans looked destined to take the top seed in the AFC. In fact, it looked like it would be hard for them to not do it.

Now, they’re the third seed and, for the second straight season, are hosting the Bengals at Reliant Stadium in a wild card game. The two teams play Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

“They’re good. They’re upbeat,” Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said about his team on Tuesday, two days after the Texans lost the regular season finale to the Colts. “They’re back to work today and they've got a lot on their plate. They’ve got to get ready real quick. We played in a game, like I said, it’s been what 48 hours since we played and they’ve got to refocus on another opponent, another game plan and get back physically, too. Get back physically, get ready to go. They’re upbeat. They’re ready to go.”

And they had better be ready to go because the Bengals are playing football as well as any team in the entire NFL. See, while the Texans were losing three of their last four games and plummeting in the hierarchy of AFC teams, the Bengals were busy being the hottest team in football.

Saturday’s matchup is between two teams heading in opposite directions and the Texans will need to work hard to turn the tide.

Cincinnati has won seven of its last eight games, with the lone loss coming to the Dallas Cowboys by one point in early December. In the past four games, the Bengals have outscored their opponents 89-60, while the Texans have been outscored 65-110.

“We’re at an all-time high,” defensive lineman J.J. Watt said. “We’re ready to roll. This is the NFL playoffs. Twelve teams, one goal. That’s it. You lose, you go home. You win, you go on.”

Watt and a few of his defensive mates led the charge on Monday, talking to the entire defense about getting back to the type of football that made the unit great at the start of the season. The Bengals and Texans have both had nine games this season in which they held opponents to 17 points or fewer, tied for second-best in the NFL behind Seattle’s 10. But Cincinnati has done it six times in its last eight games and they’ve given up 20 or fewer in their past eight games.

For a Texans’ offense that has struggled to find rhythm and has struggled to get going early, facing a Bengals’ defense that has really found its own rhythm is a daunting task.

“They’re really good,” Kubiak said. “I think sixth in the league, giving up 12 points a game in the back half of the season. Boy, that’s incredible in the National Football League.”

Kubiak is right. The Bengals’ defense is really good. Over the past eight games, they’ve given up an average of 12.75 points and 282 yards per game. If they had those numbers all season long, they’d be second in yards per game and first in points allowed. Statistically speaking, the Bengals might be the best defense in football right now.

“We have full confidence in our ability,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said on Tuesday in a conference call with Houston reporters. “We have full confidence in the way we’re going to prepare this week. Now we just have to come out and we have to show it on Saturday.”  

So can the Texans beat the Bengals? Sure. They just have to get back to playing football the way they did early in the season. But more importantly – even though they go hand in hand – the Texans have to stop the Bengals from playing football they way they have recently.

Basically, they have to stop momentum and swing it back the other way.

“I got a very strong belief in what we’re doing, strong belief in the coaches, in the players, and I know these opportunities are hard to come by,” Kubiak said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. There are a lot of people that coach in this business, play in this business and never even sniff a playoff game. I’ve been a part of many of them. I appreciate them and know the opportunity we have. Like I said, I believe in our people. I know it’s been a tough month from that standpoint. It’s a new start for us and like I said, we’re excited about it. I know we've got the right people to go out there and compete.”

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