Wild Card Saturday
January 5, 2013
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Wild Card Sunday
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CINCINNATI BENGALS (10-6) at HOUSTON TEXANS (12-4)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Houston -4.5 & 43
Opening Line & Total: Texans -4.5 & 43.5
Cincinnati tries to win its first playoff game in 23 years on Saturday when it visits the same Houston team that ended its 2011 season in this same Wild Card round.
This is a rematch of last year’s AFC Wild Card matchup in which the Texans played back-up QB T.J. Yates but still cruised to a 31-10 victory. This year the Bengals played only four games against teams that made the playoffs, going 2-2 SU and ATS. That included last week’s narrow home win against a Ravens team that emptied its bench. They did win four straight on the road to finish the year, three over bottom-feeders and one a mistake-filled gift at Pittsburgh. Houston slumped down the stretch, but did go 6-2 SU and 5-3 ATS at home, with its two SU losses coming to NFC playoff teams in Green Bay and Minnesota.
The Bengals' look to end a four-game postseason losing skid, with their last playoff win coming in 1990, a 41-14 victory over the Houston Oilers. The Texans have lost three of four, but all three of those defeats were against teams playing in the postseason (Patriots, Vikings and Colts). Before last week's win in a meaningless game over the Ravens, the Bengals hadn't beaten a current playoff team since Week 3 in Washington. With Cincy's top RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis hurting with a hamstring injury, the team has little chance of gaining yards on the ground versus Houston's 7th-ranked rushing defense allowing only 97.5 rushing YPG. And the Texans offense is tough to slow down at Reliant Stadium, scoring 29.2 PPG with 374 total YPG at home this year. They are also 20-6 ATS (77%) on grass fields in the past two seasons.
Cincinnati has been a great road team this season, going 6-2 (SU and ATS), with 24.6 PPG and 361 total YPG. However, QB Andy Dalton has struggled in the past three tilts, throwing for just 616 yards (5.8 YPA), 2 TD and 4 INT while taking 13 sacks. Dalton was awful in the playoff loss in Houston last year, throwing three picks and getting sacked four times. But not all is hopeless for Dalton, as the Texans secondary has faltered down the stretch this year, ranking a mediocre 16th in passing yards allowed (226 YPG). And they have 0-or-1 takeaways in six of the past seven games. The key matchup here will be Cincy star WR A.J. Green (1,350 rec. yds, 11 TD) against Houston's shutdown CB Johnathan Joseph, a former Bengals player.
Cincy desperately needs injured RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (hamstring) to keep the Texans' pass rush (44 sacks, T-5th in NFL) at bay. Green-Ellis has played in four playoff games in the past two seasons with New England, rushing for a pedestrian 183 yards on 47 carries (3.9 YPC) and one touchdown. The Bengals know they must be keenly aware of Houston DL J.J. Watt, who has 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 23 Tackles for Loss and 16 passes defended this season. Watt also returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of last year's playoff win against Cincy, giving his team the lead for good.
Texans QB Matt Schaub is making his playoff debut, and is sure happy this debut is at home, where he has a 101.7 passer rating (8.0 YPA, 13 TD, 4 INT) this year, compared to his 79.5 rating (6.7 YPA, 9 TD, 8 INT) on the road. He did not finish the 2012 campaign on a strong note with 1 TD and 3 INT over his final four games, but he does have a healthy WR Andre Johnson who has been outstanding late in the season. In the past seven games, he has 66 catches for 1,001 yards (143 YPG), including four games of at least 140 yards. Johnson caught five passes for 90 yards and a TD in last year's win over Cincy.
But the Texans prefer to run the football (508 rush attempts, 4th-most in NFL), in particular with Arian Foster, who has 1,424 rushing yards (6th in NFL) and a league-leading 17 total touchdowns. The Bengals had no answer for Foster last year, as he rumbled for 153 yards (6.4 YPC) and 2 TD on the ground, plus 29 more yards through the air.
However, this year's Cincinnati team has a great defense, ranking 7th in the NFL in passing defense (213 YPG) and 12th in rushing defense (107 YPG). The Bengals also rank third in the NFL with 51 quarterback sacks, led by DT Geno Atkins (12.5 sacks) and DE Michael Johnson (11.5 sacks).
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-6) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (11-5)
Sportsbook.ag Line: Green Bay -7.5 & 46
Opening Line & Total: Packers -8 & 46
NFC North foes will meet for the third time in a little more than a month when the Vikings visit the Packers in the NFC Wild Card playoffs on Saturday night.
In the regular season finale, with the Packers playing for a first-round bye and the Vikings trying to make the playoffs, Minnesota won 37-34 on a last-second field goal as Adrian Peterson ran for 199 yards. In two games against the Packers this year, Peterson has 409 rushing yards and 7.4 YPC. In their meeting at Green Bay in Week 13, QB Christian Ponder was miserable, going 12-of-25 for 119 yards and 2 INT in a 23-14 Packers win. Green Bay has beaten the Vikings at home three straight times, SU and ATS.
Minnesota is just 3-5 SU and ATS on the road this year. Before the Week 17 loss, Green Bay had won five straight SU (4-1 ATS) in this series and was a perfect 4-0 (SU and ATS) in December. And Aaron Rodgers is a lot more battle-tested in the playoffs with a 105.5 passer rating during six career postseason starts, as opposed to Ponder making his playoff debut.
The Vikings are also a team that doesn't usually thrive after a close win. Since 1992, they are 4-17 ATS (19%) on the road after a win by 3 points or less, including 2-12 ATS when that narrow win was at home.
Ponder had a career-high 120.2 passer rating in last week's win, completing 16-of-28 passes for 234 yards, 3 TD and 0 INT. But his rating hasn't even been half that number in his two visits to Green Bay where he's completed just 47.5% of his passes for 309 yards, 1 TD and 3 INT. Especially with top WR Percy Harvin (ankle) unable to play, there's no secret that the Vikings will try to win this game on the ground with Peterson, who has rushed for 1,442 yards (5.6 YPC) and 9 TD in a dozen career games in this series. And although Peterson is tough to catch on his fast home turf (5.6 YPC), he's be-en even better on the road this year with 6.5 YPC.
Green Bay allows a respectable 118.5 rushing yards per game (17th in NFL), but the Viking have gained 457 yards (228.5 YPG) in the two meetings this year. Green Bay has a stronger passing defense (218 YPG allowed, 11th in NFL), allowing just 161 passing YPG in the past five games. This unit will be even more formidable when S Charles Woodson (55 career INT) returns to the field for the first time since Week 7 because of a collarbone injury. Ponder also has to make quick decisions as the Packers rank fourth in the NFL with 47 sacks this year.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has put up some pretty impressive numbers in the postseason, throwing for 1,781 yards (297 YPG), 15 TD and 4 INT, while posting a 4-2 record. He's also been incredible in the past four seasons in this series versus Minnesota, completing 71% of his passes for 2,503 yards (313 YPG), 23 TD and 4 INT. This includes his 365 yards and 4 TD in last week's loss. Rodgers will also benefit from the probable return of WR Randall Cobb (ankle), who caught 80 passes for 954 yards and 8 TD this season. Top WRs Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson are also both 100 percent healthy, which is bad news for the Vikings' 24th-ranked passing defense. Jennings caught eight passes for 120 yards and 2 TD last week, giving him 29 catches for 497 yards and 7 TD in the past five meetings with Minnesota.
Although the Packers are not a good rushing team (106 YPG, 20th in NFL), they did chew up 152 yards on 36 carries when these teams met on Dec. 2 at Lambeau Field. RB DuJuan Harris got 14 of the team's 16 carries last week, but veteran Ryan Grant and second-year man Alex Green could also run the football on Saturday night. Having some semblance of a running game will be key, especially because the Vikings are tied for 5th in the NFL with 44 sacks this year.