By: Shawn Davis
Cincinnati @ Houston
As I sat on my bed before the Cowboys-Redskins game, I found it funny that there would be an opening round rematch from last year: Bengals visiting the Texans. Last year the game ended in a 31-10 victory for the Texans, but this year I like the contest to be more closely played. Why?
Houston picked the wrong time of the year to lose three of their last four games – and in doing so – they’ve cost themselves the top-seed in the AFC and the comfort of playing at their nice, warm, and loud dome. At one point the AFC title was going to be decided through Texas and now that designation is reserved for Colorado; nice going Houston. My friend, Justin, feels that the Bengals are going to play in the postseason tournament for a few weeks because he thinks they’re “grimy” enough to stick around. He really likes their defense, A.J. Green, and Andy Dalton. Great analysis, J; not really though, as he works weird hours and barely sleeps. I do feel that he’s on to something though, at least as it pertains to this game. Cincinnati could be a receiving a gift in a team that’s coming out for the 12th round with nothing left or they could fall prey to the rope-a-dope.
What ultimately happens on Saturday evening should fall somewhere in the middle. Of course you have to ignore the regular season this time of the year but I think there are truths to cater to once the playoffs start. I say this because of the obvious: Houston has been vulnerable the last four weeks (again, they have three losses in those aforementioned weeks) and it has to be a point of concern for them while serving as a point of emphasis for the visiting team. All year, most analysts have felt that the Texans aren’t built to play from behind and that really came to pass in the 42-14 beating they absorbed by the Patriots. The losses to the Colts and Vikings (shockingly) hammer that sentiment home. Matt Schaub looks to be overwhelmed when the ball is placed in his hands to put up points. Is it his fault entirely? No.
It’s a common sense statement to say, “Well their run game was stalled in those losses – the Colts game being the lone exception where Arian Foster gained 96 rushing yards – and of course a team is going to struggle when once facet is taken away.” Fair. The bigger indictment on why the Texans (as a whole team) cannot rally from behind is the absence of a consistent receiving threat outside of Andre Johnson (112 receptions, 1,598 yards and four TD). Tight-end Owen Daniels, the second leading receiver on the roster, had 62 receptions, 716 yards and six touchdowns. Those are good numbers for any tight end but the lack of a second threat at the wide receiver position is lowering the ceiling as it pertains to Houston’s potential. The difference – in yards – between Johnson and the next leading wide receiver, Kevin Walter, is 1,080; Walter totaled 41 catches, 518 yards and added two touchdowns. You cannot have such a discrepancy between your top-two wide receivers and wonder why you have trouble fighting back into games. This is an overlooked detail of why the Texans offense can look pedestrian at times.
Any defensive coach worth his weight can devise a scheme to take away – or at the least, limit – the chaos Johnson can cause so a legitimate second threat must be added to the roster. With all due respect to Daniels, there isn’t a team that will fear him as they do with Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham. It definitely looks like I’m going with the Bengals with the way I’m shooting holes in the Texans armor, right? Wait a minute for the pick, I’m almost there.
Their secondary depth is another way they can counteract the play-action attack of the Texans. (I love players that can cover.) The Bengals feature Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Nate Clements, Dre Kirkpatrick and Jason Allen so they will attempt to smother Johnson and the rest of Schaub’s targets by attempting to overwhelm them with numbers.
Since Schaub put on the jersey for the Texans in 2007, he has proven himself to be a solid starter in the league. In my opinion he is much more than a game manager because he did lead the NFL in passing attempts, completions and yards (while finishing fifth in touchdowns with 29) during the 2009 campaign. I feel he can win this game if Foster is held in check, I believe he can.
Reason to pick the Bengals: A.J. Green is going to draw Johnathan Joseph (who’s not entirely healthy), they can run effectively and Andy Dalton is a year better than he was last season.
Reason to pick the Texans: J.J. Watt and the rest of the defensive front-seven, the Texans are still the home team…in this contest, at least, and they still lead a balanced attack that, when clicking on all cylinders, is hard to neutralize completely.
My pick: I went with the Bengals to get the road win last year but I’m going to take the Texans here, 28-27.
Minnesota @ Green Bay
Round 3! Watching last week’s game, I was impressed by the Vikings in a game they just had to win. The Packers played hard and fell short against a better team on that day. On defense, the Pack leave a lot to be desired but I cannot see them losing this one; I just don’t. I won’t be shocked if Adrian Peterson runs for 350 yards and three touchdowns but Christian Ponder HAS to have another good game, two weeks in a row, against a division opponent that knows him well; I don’t see it happening.
My pick: Packers over Vikings, 31-17
Indianapolis @ Baltimore
The “last ride” of Ray Lewis versus Chuckstrong in Maryland; who are you going to side with? Two movements, based on emotion, are going to collide Sunday afternoon and the loser gets an early start on their vacation plans. The Colts are back into the postseason after last season’s dark cloud has finally dispersed due to Andrew Luck.
What a difference a capable quarterback makes, huh? Luck is praised, universally (just about), for his poise, decision-making and pocket-awareness. I respect that but the one thing that seems to be grossly overlooked is the fact that he will give up the ball a few times, he’s made some poor throws that have led to easy interceptions for opposing defenses; he has 18 interceptions so far. With all the age on the Ravens defense, the last thing a quarterback wants to do against them is put balls in the air without being sure of the target. Say what you will but Ed Reed can still rip the ball out of the air and score like he is a receiver.
When Luck is forced out of the pocket and has to rush a throw to avoid the pressure, he fails to reset his feet (at times) which cause his balls to lack the needed velocity to reach their intended targets. This isn’t a knock on him because all quarterbacks make the same footwork mistakes at one point or another but if he finds himself attempting throws under similar circumstances the Ravens defense will score a touchdown or two. The Colts do not want to hand momentum to a defense that’s been maligned all year, playing at home for themselves and for the right to continue the career of number 52, they don’t.
One thing Luck has going in his favor is that the Ravens have been pedestrian at rushing the quarterback and breaking down the pocket this season. The thing he doesn’t is that the Ravens will be pumped up on emotion. That, combined with how strong the Ravens are, usually, at home is a bad recipe for the road team to walk off with a victory.
My pick: Ravens over Colts, 24-16. Ray Lewis gets at least one more week.
Seattle @ Washington
I’m hoping this game lives up to all the hype it’s receiving; I really do. Seattle’s defense is sound while the Redskin’s offense gives most teams sleepless nights. You know something that’s very interesting to me? These teams are almost playing carbon-copies of themselves, with the exception being the dominant secondary the Seahawks possess (the Redskins boast no such unit). Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin will get all the headlines – deservedly so – but this game may just come down to the fact that Seattle’s defense is fast, physical and intimidating – and their offense is more complete than Washington’s.
Griffin is still mending his knee so that’s going to limit his effectiveness, especially when he’s going to be facing such a formidable defense. If Griffin can remain patient and work his way down the field, while mixing in a deep strike or two, which he’ll be forced to do as the Seahawks will focus their attention on Alfred Morris, I like the Redskins to get a few touchdowns. Both teams use the pistol, and read options as staples of their offensive attack but the Redskins rely on it more than their visiting counterparts. While both players are comfortable beyond their years under center, my eyes tell me that Wilson seems a sliver more composed and reliable coming out of the huddle in a myriad of sets. As I mentioned above, the Redskins tend to lean heavily on their read-option, and that can be matched with a fast defense; one that Seattle presents.
My pick: I have to take the Seahawks over the Redskins, 31-23.
Last Week: 12-4
Regular Season: 164-92