J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans are limping into the playoffs, having lost home-field advantage in the final two weeks to force them into the Wild Card round. On the other side, the Cincinnati Bengals are as hot as almost any NFL team, albeit against relatively weak competition.
In a rematch of last year’s Wild Card meeting, the Texans opened as 5-point favorites but have since shifted slightly down to -4.5 with an over/under of 43.
What follows is a breakdown of the point spread for the game, with news, notes, quotes and anecdotes to help you make your bets.
Keep in mind: The “edge” is merely a suggestion, and not something we necessarily recommend playing.
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BENGALS AT TEXANS, 4:30 P.M. ET
OPEN: Houston -5 | CURRENT: Houston -4.5 | OVER/UNDER: 43 | TV: NBC
SUMMARY: If you played this game a few weeks ago, the Texans would’ve surely been favored by at least a touchdown and might have even been double-digit favorites. Instead, it’s sitting at 4.5, and SportsInsights tells us that the betting action is split almost exactly down the middle, illustrating how much markets can be influenced by what’s happened most recently. Going strictly by numbers, this should be the biggest defensive battle of the Wild Card round, and therefore it has the lowest over/under of all four games at 43. These two teams met last year in the exact same game, and Houston covered as 4-point home favorites—with backup quarterback T.J. Yates—in a 31-10 victory.
STORYLINES: The Texans were a Jekyll-and-Hyde team in 2012, looking like Super Bowl favorites through the first half of the season only to fall apart over the back stretch. They haven’t looked the same since a 43-37 overtime victory over the Jaguars at home in Week 11, the day their pass defense really started to become a question mark.
Was Houston just waiting to turn on the switch in the playoffs, or does this team have genuine deficiencies? If they had the ability to simply “flip the switch” when it mattered, shouldn’t it have happened at least once in the last two weeks—against either Minnesota or Indianapolis—when they were playing for home-field advantage?
“I want them to play with a reckless abandon,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak told reporters this week. “I want them to cut it loose because I think that’s the most important thing. I don’t want to see any apprehension on anybody’s part.”
This game features the NFL’s best defensive end (Houston’s J.J. Watt) going up against the league’s best defensive tackle (Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins). Atkins, with an impressive 12.5 sacks from the inside position, is starting to become a more familiar name among casual fans, but a dominant performance against a struggling Texans offensive line would really put him on the map.
Houston’s offensive game plan is built entirely off getting Arian Foster going and then helping Matt Schaub with play-action passes, but Atkins has the ability to disrupt that plan entirely by frequently getting into the backfield.
EDGE: Both defenses should be able to control the line of scrimmage and limit big plays, and when that’s the case we’ll take the extra 4.5 points with the Bengals and hope for the best.