The 2012 playoffs are finally here, with the 12 surviving teams -- the best of the best in the NFL -- set to fight it out for the Super Bowl XLVII title. The action kicks off this weekend with the wild-card round. To get you ready, let's take a closer look at all four games.
Houston romped to a 31-10 win when these two teams met in the wild-card round last postseason. The three previous times two teams faced off in back-to-back wild-card meetings, the team that won the first game also won the second. Of course, in this case, the team that won the first game hasn't looked so hot lately -- the Texans have lost three of their past four, while the Bengals have won seven of their past eight.
Player to watch
J.J. Watt, DE, Texans: Houston receiver Andre Johnson has been one of the game's best downfield threats, and Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green should be one for the decade to come. But Watt might be the most fun to watch this weekend. A veritable game-changer, he's tipped 16 passes this season while collecting 20.5 sacks and forcing four fumbles. Watt raised his game in the postseason last year, including in the wild-card matchup, when he intercepted a pass by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton at the line of scrimmage and took it 29 yards to the house. Remember, stopping the Dalton-Green combo becomes exponentially easier if Dalton can't get the ball out.
Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals: Before the Bengals' Week 16 game in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese pulled his young charge aside. "If you can't get past the Steelers and Ravens, you're going to have to get used to being the step-child for a long, long time," Zampese told him. In Week 16, Dalton beat the Steelers. In Week 17, Dalton played a half and the Bengals' makeshift lineup took out the Ravens' subs; afterward, a confident Dalton wasn't saying anything about a cheapened win. Still, it's been an up-and-down sophomore season for the signal-caller, and pressure is what he'll face from the Texans' formidable pass rush. Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the game's best; getting past Phillips would mean checking off another huge box for Dalton.
Matchup to watch
Bengals' front four vs. Matt Schaub: In his past four games, the Texans quarterback has thrown exactly one touchdown pass. He's seemingly lost his marksmanship abilities when it comes to vertical throws, and he hasn't been playing particularly well of late. Now he gets a front four that sets up shop in opponents' backfields. The Bengals' line has accounted for 42 of their franchise-record 51 sacks; there isn't a weak link on this relentless front. Cincinnati's defense has been afire down the stretch in general. In the Bengals' past eight games, they've allowed just 282 yards and 12.8 points per contest, numbers that Texans head coach Gary Kubiak called "incredible."
Did you know?
The Bengals' last playoff win was over Houston. Only, the franchise in Houston was the Oilers and the year was 1990. ... The Bengals' next road playoff win will be their first. ... Schaub is 2-0 against the Bengals, with seven touchdowns and just one interception. ... Dalton is 0-2 against the Texans, with one touchdown and three interceptions. ... Dalton's lifetime record at Reliant Stadium is 3-1; he won twice there in high school and once while playing for TCU in the 2007 Texas Bowl. ... Texans running back Arian Foster has 15 red-zone rushing touchdowns; the Bengals allow 3.3 yards per rush inside the 20.
The Bengals are playing quarterback-eating defense. The Texans' offense can't seem to score. If the Bengals' rush can get to Schaub, if the Bengals' front can contain Foster, if Schaub can't get his play-action game going, it could be a long afternoon in Texas. The Bengals are streaking, riding their defense. And if anyone in addition to Green can show up on offense, the question that Cincinnati safety Chris Crocker asked -- "Why not us?" -- could be appropriate.