Sizing up Saturdays AFC Wild Card game between the Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) and the Houston Texans (10-6) at Reliant Stadium.
This figures to be a matchup of two rookie quarterbacks T.J. Yates for Houston and Andy Dalton for Cincinnati. Yates injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder last week and was replaced by Jake Delhomme, but the rookie is expected to start Saturday. The two teams met in Week 14 with Yates rallying the Texans from a 13-point deficit to win the game, 20-19, in Cincinnati.
The X's and O's
Houston uses its running attack led by Arian Foster (1,224 yards, 4.4 yards per carry) to take the pressure off Yates. The Texans will be better offensively with the return of WR Andre Johnson, who missed nine games with hamstring injuries. With Johnson available, Yates will be more willing to take deep shots down the field.
Dalton is a classic West Coast offense quarterback: short drops, quick throws, the ball is out of his hand in a hurry. Houstons defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, who improved the team greatly, will have to decide whether he wants to blitz Dalton and risk giving up a big play or play soft and force the young quarterback to dink-and-dunk the ball down the field.
Matchup to Watch
Johnathan Joseph is one of the best cornerbacks in football. The Texans signed him away from Cincinnati prior to the season with a five-year, 48 million contract. Joseph will be matched up against A.J. Green, Cincinnatis stud receiver. Green led all rookie receivers with 65 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Texans come into the game off three consecutive losses, but the home field and the better running game gives them the edge.
Texans 24, Bengals 17.
Sizing up Saturdays NFC Wild Card game between the Detroit Lions (10-6) and New Orleans Saints (13-3) at the Superdome.
The Lions are making their first post-season appearance since 1999. The Saints still feel the sting of losing to 7-9 Seattle in the wild card round last year. This should be the most entertaining game of the weekend with two high-powered offenses and two red hot QBs. Drew Brees set an NFL record with 5,476 passing yards this season and Matthew Stafford was not far behind with 5,038 yards.
The X's and O's
Pity the Detroit defense. Last week, the Lions were torched for 480 yards and six touchdowns by a backup quarterback (Matt Flynn of Green Bay). Now they have to face Brees and his talented group of receivers. The Lions could not cover Green Bays tight end, Jermichael Finley, so look for Brees to work the middle of the field with Jimmy Graham.
Stafford has a favorable matchup with his tight end, Brandon Pettigrew, working against the Saints strong safety Roman Harper. His No. 1 target, of course, is Calvin Johnson, who led the league with 1,681 receiving yards. The Saints did a good job on Johnson in Week 13, limiting him to six catches for 69 yards. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to gamble with blitzes which could be dangerous against this quick-strike offense.
Matchup to watch
The Saints' offensive line, with its three Pro Bowlers tackle Jermon Bushrod and guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks against the Lions' pass rush with Kyle Vanden Bosch (eight sacks), Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh (11 sacks). The Lions sacked Brees twice in their regular season meeting, a 31-17 Saints win, and they will have to do better if they hope to pull off the upset.
The Saints averaged 41 points per game at home this season while winning all eight games in the Superdome. The Lions will hang with them for awhile, but the Saints will pull away in the second half.
Saints 38, Lions 27.
E-mail Ray Didinger at email@example.com.