Cincinnati at Houston (-4.5)
Do you value momentum entering the postseason? We did a pretty extensive study of momentum this week, looking at how each team has fared week in and week out through the prism of Passer Rating Differential, the Mother of All Stats.
Some teams peaked early and declined down the stretch; some teams are peaking here when it matters most.
Cincy-Houston is a perfect example. These are two teams heading in different directions. The Bengals are on the upswing and playing their best football of the year. (The vertical axis is the team's PRD; the horizontal access is the week of the season.)
The Texans are on the decline and playing their worst football of the year.
Of course, the problem is that the Bengals are rising from a bad spot; the Texans are falling from a great spot. Those trend lines, moving in opposite directions, may criss-cross this week.
But don't count on it.
Houston is still a better team, but only slightly. The Texans are No. 9 on the Relativity Index and No. 7 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings, compared with 12 and 9, respectively, for the Bengals.
Houston has also done it against better competition: half its schedule was against Quality Opponents this year, accounting for all four losses. The Texans closed out the season against four straight playoff teams, and earlier in the season faced Denver, Green Bay and Baltimore. That’s a tough slate of seven playoff teams.
The Bengals have had a decidedly easier road with five Quality Opponents, including just one playoff team in the final half of the season. So Cincy forged its playoff run against a pretty soft slate.
Still, the Bengals present a match-up problem for the Texans: Cincy’s strength, its Defensive Hogs, is Houston’s weakness, its Offensive Hogs.
The Bengals are No. 4 on the Defensive Hog Index and loaded with young talent; Houston’s statistical weak link, meanwhile, is its No. 12-ranked Offensive Hogs. They rank in the middle of the pack in both third-down conversions and rush offense. Don’t expect Arian Foster to have his way with the Bengals.
That means the game falls on the shoulders of Matt Schaub, playing in the very first postseason game of his career and and facing a very good, but not great, pass defense: No. 6 in Defensive Pass YPA, No. 8 in Defensive QB Rating and No. 12 in Defensive Passer Rating.
That’s a tough task.
However, the Texans are still, overall, the better team. And Schaub’s counterpart, Cincy quarterback Andy Dalton, is fronted by one of the worst offensive lines in football: No. 28 on the Offensive Hog Index. Houston responds with what is still a great defensive front.
J.J. Watt and friends rank No. 3 on the Defensive Hog Index. They could prove trouble for the Bengals again, much like they did in last year’s wild-card game. Remember, it was a pick-six by Watt that that put the then-rookie on the map and also broke open a 10-10 tie in the second quarter. The Texans rolled from there, winning 31-10.
Houston will not win big again like they did last year. But they are good enough to hold on and advance to New England in the divisional round.
Pick: Houston 23, Cincinnati 21