The Cincinnati Bengals look to continue their playoff push when they take on the Houston Texans this Sunday. The 6-3-1 Bengals are coming off a 27-10 win over the New Orleans Saints, while the 5-5 Texans beat the Cleveland Browns 23-7, in what was quarterback Ryan Mallett's first NFL start.
The Texans are just one game behind the 6-4 Colts for first place in the AFC South. The Bengals hold a slim lead over the 7-4 Steelers in the AFC North, and a loss at Houston would knock Cincinnati out of first place.
Needless to say, this game could go a long way in determining which of these teams makes it to the playoffs, while the other sits at home for the postseason.
So, what are the experts saying about this game?
There is no general consensus among experts on who will win. ESPN is giving an ever-so-narrow edge to the Bengals, with seven of its 13 experts picking Cincy. The CBS Sports panel is a little more decided, with six of eight picking the Bengals. But four of six at Fox Sports are going with the Texans.
New Texans QB Ryan Mallett will be one of the key Texans to watch in this one, especially after he burned the Browns with a no-huddle attack that tired out a defense unable to get much pressure on him. That led to an average time per pass attempt from Mallett of 2.06 seconds, by far the NFL's lowest in Week 11, per Pro Football Focus.
They also point out that when the ball was out of Mallett's hand in under 2.5 seconds, his passer rating soared to 123.1 compared to just 31.3 when he held the ball longer. IF the Bengals can keep the ball in Mallet's hands longer than the Browns did, they should slow the Houston offense down.
In his preview of the game, ESPN's Coley Harvey believes the Bengals will have a special plan for Texans All-Pro lineman J.J. Watt.
I'd imagine the Texans will want Watt to get pressure from that (right) side of the line simply because it's the weakest edge. That's not an indictment on (Andre) Smith. It's just that left tackle Andrew Whitworth is a Pro Bowler who may be having the best season of his career on the other side.
If I’m Watt, I’d expect double- and maybe even an occasional triple-team. Right guard Kevin Zeitler could provide some help, as could a tight end or H-back lined up on the other side of the right tackle. Per my unofficial film study, the Bengals used an extra blocker next to Newhouse 42.1 percent of the time.
They'll also regularly have a running back or H-back Ryan Hewitt lined up in the backfield to give a little extra protection to Dalton. Another tactic? To get the ball out. Dalton has done that well this season, ranking second to Peyton Manning in shortest average time in the pocket.
As for the ESPN experts, they gave the Bengals slit edge with eight of 14 picking Cincinnati.
Houston is the favorite here at SB Nation, as well, with six of their pickers taking the Texans. The Texans are also a 1-point home favorite with an over/under of 43.5, according to OddsShark.