10-6 Cincinnati Bengals at 12-4 Houston Texans
4:30 p.m. ET at Reliant Stadium, Houston Texas, on NBC
Weather: 50 degrees with 60% chance of rain; roof will be closed
Announcers: Dan Hicks and Mike Mayock
Line: Texans by 4½
Total: 43½

The Bengals look to avenge last year’s playoff loss while also winning a post-season game for the first time in Marvin Lewis tenure, and the first team for the franchise since the 1989 season. Right now the two teams appear to be headed in different directions: the Bengals won seven of their last eight games (including victories over the Giants, Steelers and Ravens), while the Texans lost three of their last four after many assumed they would be the number one seed in the AFC.

Most Recent Matchups

Jan 7, 2012 – at Houston               Texans 31, Bengals 10
Dec 11, 2011 – at Cincy                   Texans 20, Bengals 19
Oct 18, 2009 – at Cincy                   Texans 28, Bengals 17
Oct 26, 2008 – at Houston             Texans 35, Bengals 6


Bengals pass defense vs. Texans pass offense

Yards per pass                   Bengals D: 6.7 (9th)           Texans O: 7.3 (13th)
Completion%                     Bengals D: 61.8 (18th)      Texans O: 63.9 (9th)
Passer Rating                     Bengals D: 80.7 (12th)      Texans O: 89.2 (10th)
Interceptions                     Bengals D: 14 (16th)          Texans O: 13 (10th)
Sack Yardage                      Bengals D: 361 (2nd)         Texans O: 216 (12th)
FO’s DVOA                          Bengals D: -3.8% (10th)   Texans O: 0.1% (16th)

In the second half of this season the Bengals have been able to duplicate the formula that worked so well for the Giants in their Super Bowl runs: get pressure on the opposing quarterback without having to blitz an additional pass rusher. Over the last eight games the Bengals have been able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks 27% of the time that they rush four or fewer players, and during that time they are 7-1. In the first half of the year the Bengals were able to get pressure only 17% of the time when rushing four or fewer – and were 3-5. Opponent’s touchdown to interception ratio dropped from 5:3 to 3:8; completion percentage went from 70% to 59%; and yards per pass attempt dropped from 8.1 to 6.1.

Matt Schaub is hot or cold when opposing defenses do not bring an additional pass rusher. In the 11 Houston wins he threw 15 touchdowns to 4 interceptions, with one sack for every 33 dropbacks when he did not face a blitz. However, in Houston’s four losses he threw no touchdowns, three picks, and was sacked once every 12 dropbacks against four or fewer pass rushers.

Gary Kubiak needs to commit to the running game, because that’s what drives the Houston passing game. Even if Arian Foster is only getting three yards, that still creates a manageable down and distance. The Texans need the running game in order to make the play action pass work. Andre Johnson is the only player capable of getting open on his own; the rest of Houston’s receivers (WR Kevin Walter, TE Owen Daniels, TE Garrett Graham) need to rely on Cincinnati defenders Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga being overly aggressive. Geno Atkins and Domata Peko have been playing extremely well in the middle and the Bengals like to – and succeed at – applying pressure right up the middle; C Chris Myers and G Wade Smith may be Pro Bowlers, but they are going to have trouble against the Cincinnati defensive tackles. The Texans may want to run so designed rollouts, and move the pocket from side to side to allow time for Walter or one of the tight ends to get open.


Texans pass defense vs. Bengals pass offense
Yards per pass                   Texans D: 6.7 (7th)            Bengals O: 7.1 (15th)
Completion %                    Texans D: 53.0 (1st)          Bengals O: 62.0 (13th)
Passer Rating                     Texans D: 80.0 (10th)       Bengals O: 88.1 (13th)
Interceptions                     Texans D: 15 (14th)           Bengals O: 16 (18th)
Sack Yardage                      Texans D: 269 (9th)           Bengals O: 229 (15th)
FO’s DVOA                          Texans D: -14.2% (3rd)    Bengals O: -1.8% (17th)

J.J. Watt has tipped 16 passes this year, with five of those swats resulting in interceptions. Last year in the playoffs Watt tipped and picked off a pass that gave Houston a 17-10 2nd quarter lead; the Bengals did not score again for the rest of the game. The Texans led the league with 37 tipped passes this year while Dalton has had the third most passes tipped in the NFL over the past two years (32), just three fewer than league leaders Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman.

In the 2011 regular season the Texans tried to rattle Dalton by blitzing him on 60% of his dropbacks, but he responded by going 11-for-17 for 141 yards and a TD against that extra pressure. Houston changed it up in the playoffs, dropping another defender against him while blitzing only 21% of the time; when the Texans rushed four or fewer Dalton threw three picks and no touchdowns, and his yards per pass dropped from 8.1 to 5.3. Dalton has thrown 14 touchdowns this year when defenses rush five or more; only Tom Brady (20) threw more. Although the Texans like to bring an additional pass rusher (47% of the time, tops in the NFL), they would be wise to only rush four and drop an extra man into coverage against Dalton.

A.J. Green (97 receptions for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns) has had a phenomenal year. As good as he has been Houston CB Jonathan Joseph matches up very well against him. Joseph was one of the best corners in the league this year, and in last year’s playoff game he limited Green to a very quiet 47 yards. If Joseph can shut Green down once again then the Cincinnati passing game stagnates; they don’t have any other viable options (TE Jermaine Gresham, Slot Receiver Andrew Hawkins, WR Brandon Tate … Mohamed Sanu? … Marvin Jones? …). Similar to Houston, the Bengals really need to get their running game working. From week 11 to 15 BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a great 5-game stretch, rushing for 543 yards. Since then though he was shut down by Pittsburgh (14 yards on 15 carries) and then declared inactive with a hamstring last week. Houston gets OLB Brooks Reed back this week, and safeties Daniel Manning and Glover Quin are both solid against the run, and capable in pass protection. If Law Firm is ineffective then it’s up to Dalton, who has a good arm but can sometimes have trouble with his reads; it may be too much to ask him to carry the team himself. On the other hand, how can you go with the team that has stumbled in December, losing three of four – and against the team that knocked off two rivals when everyone doubted them, finishing the season on a 7-1 run?


Prediction: Bengals 20, Texans 16X
– final score: Texans 19, Bengals 13
Bengals +4½ (one unit)X
Under 43½ (two units)


Three-Team Teaser: Bengals-Texans under 52½ (); Seahawks-Redskins under 55½ (); Colts-Ravens under 56() (three units)


Tale of the Tape

Once again the teasers come through for me: a Three Unit, 3-Team Teaser (Bills-Jets under 48½; Bears +6; 49ers-Cardinals under 48) and a Five Unit, 3-Team Teaser Steelers -1; Colts +16; Pats -1.

NFL Results for Week 17 (and the season):
Straight Up: 14-2 (%) last week, 170-85-1 (67%) for the season
Against The Spread: 11-5 (69%) / 124-128-4 (49%)
Over/Under: 9-7 (56%) / 139-113-4 (55%)
1 Unit Plays: 2-1 (+90) / 60-43 (58%)
2 Unit Plays: 3-1 (+380) / 43-33-4 (57%)
3 Unit Plays: 1-1 (-30) / 26-22-3 (54%)
4 Unit Plays: 0-0 / 2-2 (50%)
5 Unit Plays: 1-0 (+500) / 3-1 (75%)
Weekly Total: 5-3 regular (63%); 2-0 teasers (100%)
All Confidence Picks: 7-3 (70%) / 141-101-7 (58%)
Week 17 Total: +940
Season Total: +8630

Previous College Games
13-6, net +7 Units, +610

Last Week’s College Games
21-12, net +5 Units, +360

Season College Total
34-18, net +12 Units, +970

Season Grand Total



This Day In Patriots History


January 3, 1998:
Pittsburgh Steelers 7, New England Patriots 6 at Three Rivers Stadium

The defending AFC champs put forth a strong defensive effort, but without Curtis Martin all game (groin), Ben Coates for most of the game (thumb), and Terry Glenn in the 4th quarter (shoulder), Drew Bledsoe just did not have enough offensive weapons.

Bledsoe was 23-for-44 for 264 yards, but his critical stats were two interceptions and two fumbles.

With 3:24 to play Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi stonewalled Kordell Stewart on a 4th and goal at the one-yard line to give the Pats a chance at a game-winning field goal. Bledsoe went 6-for-7 on the drive and advanced the Pats to the 42, but Pittsburgh rookie Mike Vrabel got pressure on Bledsoe and forced a fumble that effectively sealed the game. Shawn Jefferson had nine receptions for 104 yards to lead the Pats, and Glenn added another 96 yards on five catches. The defense did a great job of bottling up Jerome Bettis and Kordell Stewart, but the offense was limited to just two Adam Vinatieri field goals.


January 3, 1999:
Jacksonville Jaguars 25, New England Patriots 10 at Alltel Stadium

Without Drew Bledsoe, Terry Glenn or Ted Johnson, Pete Carroll‘s Patriots were out-manned and could not keep up with Tom Coughlin’s Jaguars in Jacksonville. Fred Taylor ran for 162 yards and a touchdown, and much of his rushing set up four field goals by Mike Hollis.  

Despite the injuries the Pats were down by just 12-10 in the 4th quarter after an Adam Vinatieri field goal, but Jimmy Smith beat Ty Law on a flag pattern and Mark Brunell hit him for a 37-yard touchdown. The Jaguars then added one field goal after a fumble, and another field goal after the Pats turned the ball over on downs with time running out.


January 3, 2000:
Pete Carroll was fired as Head Coach of the Patriots.

Although Carroll never had a losing season with the Pats, the team won fewer games than the previous season in each of his three years in Foxboro. After taking over a team that had went to the Super Bowl, Carroll’s clubs ended their seasons in the division round of the playoffs, then the wild card round, and then missed the playoffs – when they finished his last season with six losses in the final eight games. Although the pats finished with a .500 record at 8-8, they also finished in last place in the highly competitive AFC East.

While Carroll’s clubs were fine defensively, they were stuck in reverse on offense. With the playoffs on the line the Pats scored just 108 points over the final eight weeks of the season – with 20 of those points coming in week 17, when they were virtually out of it.


January 3, 2000:
Bill Belichick scribbled “I resign as HC of the NYJ” and the press conference to announce his hiring turned into a farewell Q&A to the shocked New York sports media.


January 3, 2010:
Houston Texans 34, New England Patriots 27 at Reliant Stadium

In a meaningless game – the Pats playoff spot was already secured – their post-season hopes took a severe hit when Wes Welker blew out his knee in the vicinity of the negative aura of Bernard Pollard. As for the game itself, Fred Taylor rushed for the last two touchdowns of his illustrious NFL career; Julian Edelman had career single-game highs for receptions (10) and receiving yards (103); and Randy Moss had five catches for 75 yards. Darius Butler had the finest day of his career with the Patriots: a 91-yard interception for a touchdown (his only TD with the Pats), and 70 yards on kick returns.



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January 3, 1945:
Stephen Stills was born in Dallas

January 3, 1946:
Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones was born in Sidcup, Kent, England

January 3, 1987:
Aretha Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame




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