Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (-4.5, 43)
A stunning late-season swoon cost the Houston Texans what appeared to be a certain first-round bye in the playoffs and put them in the position of having to host the surging Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday in the AFC wild-card round. The Texans were tied for the best record in football and were in the driver's seat for the top seed and home field throughout the playoffs before stumbling down the stretch with losses in three of their final four games. That included back-to-back defeats to Minnesota and Indianapolis to close out the regular season.
The Bengals, on the other hand, had little margin for error after a four-game losing streak left them wobbling at 3-5 at the season's midway point. Cincinnati regrouped to win four straight and seven of its final eight to secure consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since the 1981-82 seasons. The game will be a rematch of last season's first-round meeting in Houston, won 31-10 by the Texans.
TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC.
LINE: The LVH opened the Texans as 5-point favorites and the line has bounced around between Houston -4 and -5 all week at most shops.
CONSENSUS: Nearly 52 percent of Covers Consensus players like the Texans to cover and 58 percent are on the over.
ABOUT THE BENGALS (10-6): Cincinnati's defense has been sensational in the second half of the season, not allowing more than 20 points and limiting six of its last eight opponents to 13 points or fewer. The only defeat in the final eight games came on a last-second field goal to Dallas. The Bengals ranked second in the league with 51 sacks and showed their defensive mettle by winning at Pittsburgh 13-10 in Week 16 to clinch a playoff slot. Cincinnati rested many of its starters in the regular-season finale, but has questions about its running game after 1,000-yard rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis was held to 15 yards by the Steelers. He is also dealing with a sore hamstring. Second-year quarterback Andy Dalton has tossed only two TD passes in the past three games but, like Schaub, has an elite wideout in A.J. Green, who registered 97 receptions and 11 touchdowns.
ABOUT THE TEXANS (12-4): Houston managed a single offensive touchdown the past two games in squandering a pair of chances to sew up a first-round bye. But while many point to the 42-14 beating at New England on Dec. 10 as the start of the Texans' skid, they have been inconsistent for the past seven weeks, beginning with consecutive overtime wins over Jacksonville and Detroit. Quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown only one TD pass against three interceptions in the past four games. WR Andre Johnson has been the only reliable target in that span, hauling in 38 catches to finish the season with 112 receptions and 1,598 yards. Running back Arian Foster rushed for 1,424 yards and scored a league-high 17 touchdowns. Defensive end J.J. Watt had 20 1/2 sacks to anchor a defense that was the league's best for much of the season but allowed at least 28 points in four of the last seven games.
* Bengals are 7-1 ATS in their last eight games overall.
* Bengals are 4-0 ATS in their last four road games.
* Under is 8-0 in Bengals’ last eight games following a win.
* Under is 4-1 in Texans’ last five games overall.
1. Foster rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns in Houston's playoff win over the Bengals last season.
2. Dalton, who was picked off three times in the postseason loss to Houston, threw 11 interceptions in the first eight games this season but only five in the final eight.
3. The Texans beat the Bengals twice last season, clinching the AFC South title on a last-second 20-19 win at Cincinnati.