Newyorkjets.com will profile each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Here is the AFC Wild Card game to be played Saturday:
(6) CINCINNATI (9-7) at (3) HOUSTON (10-6), 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC
File this one under "How Did We Get-Here?" The Bengals may be the most surprising story of the NFL in 2011, reaching the playoffs after going 4-12 in 2010. The Texans reversed their 6-10 record of 2010 to reach the postseason for the first time in franchise history.
Both teams will start rookie quarterbacks — Andy Dalton for the Bengals and T.J. Yates for the Texans. It's the first time in the Super Bowl era that rookie QBs will start against each other in a playoff game. Head coach Marvin Lewis has taken the Bengals to the playoffs in two of the last three seasons and they will look to win their first postseason game since 1991 when they defeated Houston ... the Oilers, not the Texans.
Houston's young nucleus has been viewed as a potential playoff sleeper for several seasons, and the Texans have finally reached the tournament for the first time in 10 years. It just so happens they will face an even younger team built with similar characteristics. The two inexperienced playoff teams will be looking in a proverbial mirror when they line up across from each other on Saturday.
Houston boasts the second-leading rushing attack in the league, behind only the Denver Broncos. Much of the load is carried by RB Arian Foster, an All-Pro in 2010 and a two-time Pro Bowler. Foster was third in the AFC in rushing this season, carrying 278 times for 1,224 yards in 13 games. Additionally, he was third in the NFL in receiving yards by a tailback with 617 yards. He's the centerpiece of an offense that runs 52.2 percent of the time, the second-highest percentage in the league.
Cincinnati boasts the NFL's No. 7 overall defense and 10th rushing defense. In a Week 14 loss to the Texans, the Stripes held Foster to 41 yards on 15 carries, his lowest yards per carry (2.7) in any game this season.
Dalton has surprised with his accelerated success in professional football, but the Bengals have another young offensive weapon in rookie WR A.J. Green. Dalton and Green have found immediate chemistry, becoming the first rookie combo in NFL history with a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard receiver.
The Texans defense has improved dramatically with the addition of coordinator Wade Phillips, ranking second in total defense (285.7 yards per game), third in pass defense (189.7) and fourth in rushing defense (96.0). The Texans and Ravens were the only two teams to rank in the top five in all three categories in 2011.
Since joining the league in 2002, the Texans and Bengals have split their six games, 3-3. Cincinnati won the first three, the Texans the last three, including a last-gasp, 20-19 road victory in Week 14.
With little over two minutes remaining in the contest and no timeouts, Yates led his Texans on an 80-yard scoring drive. A TD pass to WR Kevin Walter with two seconds left lifted the Texans to the win and the AFC South title. It was Yates' second start of his career and he threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns, besting Dalton and his 189 yards and one score.
Yates managed the Houston offense without their top pass catcher, WR Andre Johnson. Hampered by a nagging hamstring injury for most of the season, Johnson has missed significant time but is expected to play Saturday.
The Jets faced both teams in the 2011 preseason, falling to the Texans in Houston, 20-16, and defeating the Bengals at MetLife Stadium, 27-7. The Green & White defeated the Bengals in the teams' last postseason meeting, a 24-14 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Texans have three former Jets on their roster. RB Derrick Ward was a former seventh-round selection of the Jets in 2004 and spent time on the team's practice squad. TE Joel Dreessen was the Jets' sixth-round pick in 2005, playing one season with the Green & White. G Wade Smith spent two seasons as a member of the Jets and now is part of a Texans offensive line that ranks as one of the best in the league.
K Mike Nugent is the only former Jet representing Cincinnati. The Green & White's second-round choice in 2005 spent four seasons kicking for the Jets, making 75 of his 92 career FG attempts. Now in his second full season with the Bengals, Nugent has converted 48 of 57 FGs.
Keep your eye on some of the local flavor in Saturday's matchup while you're at it. Texans LB Brian Cushing hails from Park Ridge, N.J., and Bergen Catholic High, and TE Garrett Graham is a native of Brick, N.J. The Bengals' tristate-area players include S Jeromy Miles (Voorhees, N.J.), FB Chris Pressley (Woodbury, N.J.), and LB Vincent Rey (Far Rockaway, N.Y.). And RB Brian Leonard is a Rutgers alumnus.