Newyorkjets.com is profiinge each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the AFC Wild Card Game to be played Saturday afternoon:
(6) CINCINNATI (10-6) at (3) HOUSTON (12-4), 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Nearly one year ago to the day, the Houston Texans picked up their first playoff win in franchise history when they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-10, in the AFC Wild Card Round. Houston RB Arian Foster rushed for an impressive 153 yards and two touchdowns, while the Texans defense forced then-rookie QB Andy Dalton into three interceptions.
"We feel like we have a bright future," Dalton said at the time. "It's still unfortunate that it ended this way."
Dalton and the Bengals will get a shot at revenge Saturday when they visit Reliant Stadium once again for a wild-card matchup. While the teams are meeting for the second straight year, not everything is the same this time around.
Last year Houston QB Matt Schaub was injured and backup T.J. Yates managed a turnover-free game, completing 11 of 20 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. Yates wasn't as successful the following week, however, as he threw three picks and Houston's special season came to an end with a 20-13 defeat to the Ravens.
Houston lost Mario Williams, its career franchise sack leader, to the Buffalo Bills last offseason and many presumed the defense would struggle in 2012. Yet second-year DE J.J. Watt has become an unstoppable force and is a top candidate for Defensive Player of the Year after leading the NFL with 20.5 sacks. If the Bengals hope to get payback, it's essential they contain Watt.
The Texans finished the regular season with a franchise-best 12-4 record and captured their second consecutive AFC South crown. They started their season 5-0, lost to Green Bay in Week 6, and bounced back with six straight wins to become 11-1. However, they enter the playoffs on a two-game losing streak and have dropped three of their last four.
"We had a great opportunity the last two weeks, but we won't feel sorry for ourselves," coach Gary Kubiak said after the Texans' loss to the Colts last week.
While Houston wasn't as crisp in closing out the regular season, Cincinnati was the opposite. After opening the year 3-5, the Bengals ended on a surge, winning three straight and seven of their final eight. Dalton was a key reason. His play significantly improved this season, his second in the league, as he threw for 3,669 yards while completing 62.3 percent of his passes with 27 TDs and 16 INTs.
"I definitely feel like I'm a better quarterback this year," Dalton said. "I've got more control of the offense. There's a lot more stuff that I'm doing at the line of scrimmage, making checks and doing different things this year than I was doing last year. That has helped me become a better player."
Saturday's contest also features a pair of dynamic WRs in Houston's Andre Johnson and Cincinnati's A.J. Green. Johnson has the second-most receiving yards (1,598) among wideouts in the NFL, whereas Green is 10th (1,350). Yet Green leads Johnson in touchdown receptions, 11-4.
From a team perspective, both clubs shine on the defensive side of the ball. Cincinnati ranks sixth and Houston seventh in total yards allowed, the Bengals are eighth and the Texans tied for ninth in points allowed. It could be a low-scoring afternoon.
Before last season, these teams had never faced off against one another in the postseason. The regular-season series is even at three games apiece. The Bengals won the first three while Houston has claimed victories in the most recent three contests. The Texans have won the last two at Reliant, by 35-6 in 2008 and in last year's wild-card game.
This is only Houston's second playoff appearance in its 11-year existence. Cincinnati is making its fourth trip to the playoffs in the last eight years and its first back-to-back apperances in 30 years. The Bengals have played in two Super Bowls in their history (XVI and XXIII) but came up short against the 49ers both times.
Cincinnati K Mike Nugent was drafted by the Jets in the second round in 2005 and spent his first four NFL seasons before landing with the Bengals in his home state of Ohio in 2010. He was 19-for-23 on his field goals this season before injuring his right calf and going on IR. Since Dec. 6, the Bengals' kicker has been Josh Brown, whom Jets K Nick Folk beat out during training camp in a competition that ST coordinator Mike Westhoff said was the best he'd ever witnessed. Brown goes into the playoffs on a hot streak, having hit 11 of his 12 FG tries in the last four games.
FB John Conner joined the Bengals on Dec. 15 after FB Chris Pressley went on IR. A Cincinnati area native, Conner was drafted by the Jets in the fifth round in 2010 and spent his first 2½ years as a pro with the Green & White. He was released by the team in October after struggling with MCL and hamstring injuries.
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis spent his first four years in the NFL with the New England Patriots and ran for four touchdowns in his four games vs. the Jets in 2010-11. In his first season with Cincinnati, "the Law Firm" rushed for 1,094 yards on 278 carries. He missed Sunday's regular-season finale with a hamstring injury but returned to practice Wednesday.
First-year Bengals DBs coach Mark Carrier spent the prior two seasons as the Green & White's defensive line coach.
Wade Smith, Houston's starting LG for the past two seasons, played 21 games, primarily as a backup tackle, for the Jets in 2006-07. He started against the Jets on Oct. 8 when the Texans defeated the Jets at MetLife Stadium, 23-17, on Monday Night Football.
Texans DBs coach Vance Joseph began his two-year NFL playing career with the Jets in 1995, when as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado he played in 13 games and started six games at RCB and had two interceptions. This is his second year coaching the Houston secondary.