Another year, another Bengals playoff game. Sounds odd saying that, right? Some of you may have spent all season doubting this Bengals team. Some of you may have lost all hope during their 3-5 start. Some of you may have just been cautiously optimistic. Even if you spent the season brimming with unwavering confidence as a Bengals fan, there's always room for a little optimism as the Bengals face the Houston Texans on Saturday. Rather than list out individual players (which could certainly serve as reasons for optimism), I opted to not make a list of thirty reasons to be optimistic about the Bengals this week. So, with that said, here are a few pleasant thoughts to get you through til Saturday.
With that said, it's time to feed your football soul with five reasons to feel optimistic about a Bengals playoff win:
1. The Bengals are experiencing momentum now.
The Bengals backed their way into the playoffs last season, but they're rolling into the postseason this time around. In 2011, the Bengals started out the year at 6-2, but ended at 3-5. They've won seven of their last eight games and certainly have the momentum to get the job done in Houston. More often than not, momentum is a huge factor in a team's success at a playoff run.
2. Houston has lost some momentum.
Ever since facing the New England Patriots, the Texans seemed to have lost some mojo. Houston was an 11-1 AFC juggernaut until Tom Brady and the Patriots stomped Houston with a final score of 42-14. The loss seemed to trigger an offensive dry spell in which the Texans lost three of their final four games of the regular season. It's hard to imagine the Texans not fighting hard to curb their recent difficulties, but the regression has drawn blood in the water for an exceptionally hungry Bengals defense.
3. Simply Put: The Bengals Defense.
It's no coincidence that the Bengals almost swept the second half of the season as Cincinnati's defense bloomed into a playoff-caliber unit. The second half of the Bengals season saw a defense that allowed an average of just under 13 points to their opponent, nine turnovers, and nine sacks. If Andy Dalton can simply control the game by eliminating turnovers, even something in the neighborhood of 180 yards passing and a few touchdowns could be more than enough to win as long as the Bengals can keep up their defensive dominance. Sure, the Texans have an elite backfield and one of the best wide receivers in the league, but Houston's offense was only able to put up 16 points against the Indianapolis Colts last week and six points against the Vikings the week before. They can be contained.
4. This is Revenge, not Déjà Vu.
The Bengals face the Texans for yet another Wild Card game, and this time they've brought along more experience and strong new roster additions. Andy Dalton experienced J.J. Watt's pick six. Chris Crocker experienced Arian Foster's stiff arm leading to a Houston touchdown this time last year. Marvin Lewis experienced wasting all of the Bengals challenges in the second quarter of last year's playoff game (although it remains to be seen if he's learned from that). While the Texans may have been struggling at the end of the 2011 season, they still beat the Bengals. However, the Bengals are hot at the right time, and what better way to start off the postseason than a rematch? Andy Dalton and the rest of the Bengals young players can set aside what the Bengals didn't do while they weren't on the roster, but they are fully aware of what it felt like to lose to the Texans. This postseason begins with an opportunity to exact revenge.
5. The Bengals have overcome obstacles all season.
First, the Bengals were perceived as a team that had a much tougher schedule than 2011. Many NFL insiders saw this as a year of growing pains for a team that found the back door into the playoffs just last season. This season, however, the Bengals finished with a 10-6 record. Even when facing the Philadelphia Eagles, who weren't as strong of a team as many predicted before the season, they still had to overcome a 1-2 record on a short week for Thursday Night Football. They did.
The Bengals hit a slump early in the season, as they started out 3-5. It was easy to assume that the Bengals were unraveling as many of their more challenging opponents were waiting for them in the second half of the season. Since 1990, 131 teams have started 3-5 and only nine of them have made the playoffs. The Bengals overcame this obstacle by finishing with seven wins in eight games.
The Bengals had to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that Cincinnati hadn't defeated in over two years. Not only would a win over the Steelers be a statement within their division, but it locked them into the playoffs. Combine the pressure of making the playoffs with the fact that the Bengals hadn't managed two consecutive seasons in which they made it to the postseason, and the Bengals were facing arguably one of the biggest hurdles in recent memory - or at least it felt that way after they managed to make it happen by beating the Steelers 13-10.
Beating Houston is just another way for the Bengals to make a statement in regards to this young, revitalized Bengals squad - and they're certainly aware of it.