Jan 052013
 

Bengals-TexansCincinnati’s 23-17 drubbing of the Baltimore Ravens marked the completion of a 7-1 second half and allowed them to notch their first back-to-back winning seasons since the Paul Brown and Bill Johnson eras of 1975-1977 and repeat post season appearances since 81-82. More importantly, it marked the complete turnaround from a 3-5 start and earned them a return trip to Houston—the site of last season’s 31-10 playoff loss. Last season the Bengals were an upstart team with a rookie quarterback, Andy Dalton, leading the way. This post season the expectations are different for the Bengals. An only slight underdog, Cincinnati has a year of seasoning under their belt, an aggressive defense, and could very easily be riding an 8 game winning streak into the playoffs. A rematch with Houston will provide a year-over-year litmus test and the 2011 goal of making the playoffs has been replaced by strong hopes that the Bengals can deliver their first playoff victory since 1990 when Sam Wyche patrolled the sidelines.

For the Houston Texans expectations coming into the season were set with all eyes on a February trip to New Orleans. 2011 saw Houston get over the hump by winning the AFC South and entering the post season for the first time. However, expectations were quickly tempered when a season ending injury limited Matt Schaub to 10 starts. A subsequent injury to backup QB Matt Leinhart gave way to TJ Yates—even further dashing Super Bowl hopes. The Yates led Texans managed to notch the first playoff victory in franchise history against the Bengals before bowing out to the Ravens. This year, fully loaded and healthy, Houston started 11-1 and appeared a virtual lock to earn some wild card weekend rest and home field advantage through the playoffs. Then, four consecutive matchups against teams currently playing in this post season led to three losses and Saturday’s once unlikely rematch. Nonetheless, Houston enters this weekend boasting both an offense and defense ranked in the league top ten.

The Keys for Cincinnati
For the second consecutive season Mike Zimmer’s defense is amongst the top 10 in the league and particularly strong against the run. However, in the first playoff game against Houston the Bengals defense was gashed for over 150 yards by Arian Foster and a Houston offense that lacked their starting quarterback and typically strong passing attack. Geno Atkins and company cannot afford such a letdown this season and must limit the production of Foster by all means necessary. If Cincinnati can limit Foster’s production and also put pressure on Matt Schaub they will find an offense that is not as dissimilar to their own despite what the numbers indicate. While the Bengals have limited downfield receiving options beyond AJ Green and Jermaine Gresham, the same can be said for Houston beyond Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. If Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and company can be effective up front versus Foster and also apply pressure then the Bengals and their talented secondary will gain advantages over all receivers not named Johnson.

BenJarvis Green-Ellis is banged up and even healthy it would be unlikely that the Bengals could gain an advantage against the Houston front seven to sustain a strong rushing attack. The key for the Bengals is for the offensive line to limit JJ Watt and the Houston pass rush long enough for Green, Gresham, and a supporting cast of supplementary receivers led by deceptively talented Andrew Hawkins to do damage in the secondary. Andre Smith must do his best to contain Watt who devastated the Bengals in last season’s matchup. If Dalton is to reverse the results of his 0 touchdown 3 interception performance in his playoff debut it will start with pass protection.

The Keys for Houston
As Houston limps into the post season the key elements to reverse the recent course of failure are very similar to the pertinent areas of focus documented for Cincinnati to pull off their own victory. If the Bengals need to hold up to Watt and win at the line of scrimmage the same can be said for Houston. Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson have accounted for 33 of the Bengals 50 sacks on the season and Schaub has found himself on the receiving end of nearly a dozen sacks in the last three games—this will need to change for Houston to be successful. The Texans zone-blocking scheme will need to find its early season success so that Foster and the running game can run the ball to protect Schaub. It will also be useful in setting up Foster both in the red zone and allow him to be successful on screens in the flat. Like the Bengals, Houston is going to be hard pressed to find a consistent third vertical threat against the talented opposing secondary—but that does not mean they will be unable to do enough to make Johnson, Daniels, and Fosters big enough threats in the passing game to be victorious.

Defensively, Houston will have to use their pressure game. Watt, quite possibly the most dominant defensive player in the NFL, leads an attack that is duly adept at getting to the quarterback and stopping the run. They must both pressure Dalton and render the already injured Green-Ellis a non-factor. If they do so the matchup of Jonathan Joseph, with some help from Danieal Manning, against Green becomes much more manageable.

The Outcome
This game has all the makings of a classic defensive battle pitting two of the NFLs finest defensive units and coordinators in Wade Phillips and Mike Zimmer against each other. Cincinnati has been superb with its season on the line—which it was from the point they fell to 3-5 until they clinched a post season spot in week 16. Andy Dalton looks more like a QB poised to take the next step than the rookie who faced the harsh reality of playoff football a year ago. However, one needs to take a deeper look at the Houston late season slump before dismissing them as a team bound to finish the season with a fizzle. In two of the three late season losses they faced mad bombers Tom Brady and Andrew Luck both of who trump Dalton’s deep passing prowess. In the other loss, one in which they contained the passing game, they were dominated by the juggernaut that is Adrian Peterson—of whom Green-Ellis is not.

Houston’s season has resembled a powerful heavyweight prizefighter that dominated early on in battle only to run seemingly out of gas late in the fight. Fortunately, they racked up enough points on the scorecard to survive to win a decision and live to fight another day. The playoffs mark a new fight and Houston should have enough in the tank to win an early round home game.

Houston Texans 21 – Cincinnati Bengals 14

Week 11 Recap

 Posted by
Nov 212012
 

It was a wild week in the NFL in Week 11, as three teams blew double digit leads to drop games late or in overtime. The Patriots and Broncos both stayed on a roll, and both lost a key player for several games. Meanwhile, the 49ers and Bears offered contrasting views of teams operating with backup quarterbacks, and the Bengals gained in the playoff race while the Lions continued to find a way to lose.

Here’s the Week 11 recap:

Oct 222012
 

Wow… we had quite a turnout for this past week’s poll, and we thank all the kind readers from Reddit who visited our site to take part. We had another runaway winner this week, as 42% of you thought that the New Orleans Saints were off to the most disappointing start in the NFL this season. Here are the results from last week’s poll.

 

Poll #10: Which team is off to the most disappointing start?

New Orleans (1-4) (42%, 32 Votes)
Carolina (1-4) (22%, 17 Votes)
New England (3-3) (17%, 13 Votes)
Green Bay (3-3) (9%, 7 Votes)
Pittsburgh (2-3) (4%, 3 Votes)
Kansas City (1-5) (3%, 2 Votes)
Dallas (2-3) (3%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 76

This week’s poll takes a first look at the MVP of the season to date. It is a large pool, trying to fit in the top quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and defensive players to see what fans think of the candidates after seven weeks.

Poll #11: If the season ended today, who would you vote for as the Most Valuable Player?

Tom Brady, New England
Drew Brees, New Orleans
Victor Cruz, New York Giants
Arian Foster, Houston
Frank Gore, San Francisco
AJ Green, Cincinnati
Robert Griffin III, Washington
Percy Harvin, Minnesota
Marshawn Lynch, Seattlle
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Peyton Manning, Denver
Clay Matthews, Green Bay
Alfred Morris, Washington
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Matt Ryan, Atlanta
JJ Watt, Houston
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis
Wes Welker, New England

Oct 032012
 

It is a breath of fresh air that this week we find ourselves talking about the play on the field, rather than the poor officiating. The early season upsets, for the most part, are starting to wear off as we begin to get a handle on who the power players are that will be fighting for post-season spots. Sure there are some surprises (such as Minnesota and Arizona), but we also have the normal constants in the NFL universe battling for supremacy.

Here are our Week Four Power Rankings:

1. Houston Texans (4-0, +1) – The Texans grab the top spot after a blowout win over the Titans

2. Atlanta Falcons (4-0, -1) – The Falcons slip to #2 after needing a last minute comeback to overcome the Panthers, but Matt Ryan and the Falcons are for real

3. San Francisco 49ers (3-1, +3) – They made the Jets look hideous on Sunday, though to be fair the Jets were already doing a good job of that themselves

4. Baltimore Ravens (3-1, U) – Two close wins over the Patriots and Browns have the Ravens battling the Bengals for control of the AFC North; Flacco not looking elite, but may be looking good enough

5. Arizona Cardinals (4-0, -2) – Yes, they are still undefeated, but they struggled against a poor Dolphins team

6. New England Patriots (2-2, +1) – They won by 24 points and still gave Bill Belichick plenty to scream about this week

7. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1, +4) – The Eagles have scored six touchdowns in four games; this castle is built on sand

8. New York Giants (2-2, -3) – To be honest, Eli did enough to steal a win from the Eagles; he needs to talk to his receivers about hugging cornerbacks downfield

9. Green Bay Packers (2-2, -1) – The Packers defense can thank Garrett Hartley for pulling them out of the fire

10. Chicago Bears (3-1, +3) – What do you know… the good Jay Cutler showed up this week

11. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1, -1) – Dalton, Green, and an improving defense are off to a fast start; could be a two team race with the Ravens

12. Minnesota Vikings (3-1, +7) – Vikes can thank a meltdown by the Lions’ special teams, but the truth is this team looks better than many people thought it would

13. Denver Broncos (2-2, +4) – Manning looks great against the Raiders; will their defense be able to stop the Patriots?

14. San Diego Chargers (3-1, +6) – Rivers looks better, and defense forces six turnovers to help Chargers rebound from blowout loss in Week Three

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2, -1) – Early bye week helps team get healthy in time for the Eagles to invade

16. Dallas Cowboys (2-2, -4) – The Ghost Rat says that the Dallas Cowboys will never win a Super Bowl with Tony Romo at the helm; of course his performance against the Bears doesn’t exactly make this prediction look like a stretch

17. Washington Redskins (2-2, +4) – Redskins look they will play a lot of close games this year; they may or may not make the playoffs but will be the team no one wants to play

18. Seattle Seahawks (2-2, -9) – Similar to the Redskins; an 8-8 bound team that can surprise people

19. St. Louis Rams (2-2, +4) – We don’t think the winning will continue at this pace, but the Rams are no longer at the bottom of the pyramid

20. Buffalo Bills (2-2, -5) – There’s a new book out; “How to go from upstart to roadkill in 30 minutes“, by the Buffalo Bills

21. Detroit Lions (1-3, -3) – They get a bye this week, but the losing may not be over

22. Carolina Panthers (1-3, +4) – A game effort against the Falcons, and Cam seems to be waking his team up; beating the Seahawks would be a good step in the right direction

23. New York Jets (2-2, -7) – Why is Mark Sanchez a starting quarterback in the National Football League? Anyone? Bueller?

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3, -2) – Freeman is playing well, but they need a rushing attack

25. Miami Dolphins (1-3, +3) – They almost pulled off the upset against the Cardinals, but starting Tannehill over Moore dooms this to be another lost year for the Fins

26. Indianapolis Colts (1-2, +5) – We wish you a speedy recovery, Chuck Pagano

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3, -2) – They looked awful against the Bengals; destined to be at the bottom of our rankings this season

28. New Orleans Saints (0-4, +2) – Bad teams find a way to lose games; New Orleans is a bad team

29. Oakland Raiders (1-3, -5) – They just teased us a little with that win over the Steelers…

30. Tennessee Titans (1-3, -3) – Back to Matt Hasselbeck for now, but it won’t matter

31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-3. -2) – By all accounts Romeo Crennel is a great person and a good coach; but none of it seems to be helping the hapless Chiefs

32. Cleveland Browns (0-4, U) – When Jimmy Haslam is approved as the new owner later this month, look for the heads to start rolling quickly

Aug 172012
 

So Week Two of the pre-season is upon us. Once again, we will post quick link results if you’d like to keep up with your favorite team’s results and video courtesy of NFL.com. This week we will see a bit more of the starting units as they prepare for the regular season, and there are still a number of interesting battles to watch across the league.

This week’s results: