Thomas B. Shea
We'll be taking a single-post approach and reacting to predictions for Saturday's game between the Bengals and Texans.
Using a basketball comparison of weighed schedules and the differences of opponents faced, Bill Barnwell with Grantland.com isn't convinced that Houston's perceived decline in production and overall momentum will doom the Texans this weekend when they host the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday afternoon.
We have a decent idea that the Texans are a very good football team for a number of reasons. They've gone 23-11 over the past two seasons, with comfortable wins over a number of notable teams, including three of the other five AFC playoff teams this year alone. There are some statistical markers that suggest that the 2012 Texans have been a little lucky this year — a high fumble recovery rate, a 5-0 record in games decided by one touchdown or less — but those numbers aren't enough to turn the Texans into an also-ran. Instead, because the Texans have struggled over the final quarter of their season against difficult opposition with little reason to show immediacy (before Week 17), it's time to write off the Texans as exhausted and defeated? I'm skeptical.
One area of problematic adversity that's countered Houston wasn't so much an inferior brand of football that many have questioned in regards to the Texans, writes Barnwell. Rather playing a stretch of ten quarters in five days, followed by a general steady decline using Football Outsides' "core" statistic called DVA which showed a passing offense dropping 17 spots from midseason and a Bengals pass rush improving 27 spots, as the best pass rush in the NFL.
Yes. They're declining. Yet ultimately Barnwell picks the Texans over Cincinnati, questioning the Bengals passing offense (which has been rough lately) and citing some historical references on how the Texans have played over the course of two years. Rather he didn't dig into the momentum each team is taking into the postseason, rather took into account on how said teams have played over a much longer sample.
The Bengals slow down the Houston passing attack and put up a better fight than they did one year ago, but a resurgent Houston defense picks up the slack. Houston 20, Cincinnati 13.
We have the feeling that many aren't selecting the Bengals this weekend, despite the lack of confident explanation. Perhaps its the time that's passed since they last won a postseason game, which in a way, makes sense to them. At the same time there has to be some accounting for Cincinnati's production (especially defensively) over the second half of the season a little more favorably. But then none of that matters now.