January 4, 2013
The NFL postseason begins on Saturday with a rematch of a Wild Card game from last season and a rematch of a division battle from last Sunday. The Bengals and Texans are going in different directions, while the Packers try to forget about last year's playoff meltdown with a meeting against the Vikings.
Bengals at Texans (-4 ½, 43 ½) - 4:30 PM EST
Cincinnati seemed like a one-hit wonder after qualifying for the 2011 postseason at 9-7 and losing at Houston in the Wild Card round. The Bengals overcame a 3-5 start this season to win seven of their final eight contests to finish at 10-6 and get a return date to Reliant Stadium for another Saturday Wild Card matchup.
The Texans were a repeat offender of a poor December finish for the second straight season, dropping three of their last four games, all by double-digits. Last season, Houston didn't have the luxury of its starting quarterback Matt Schaub in the lineup, who was out due to a Lisfranc injury. Schaub is healthy this time around for the postseason, but he will need to duplicate the effort put together by his backup in this round last January.
Houston won its first ever playoff game (in its first try) over Cincinnati in the Wild Card round one year ago, 31-10 as four-point home favorites. T.J. Yates led the Texans on three scoring drives, including a pair of touchdowns in the second half. Arian Foster rushed for two touchdowns and 153 yards, while J.J. Watt's interception return for a score in the final minute of the first half broke a 10-10 tie. The Bengals couldn't recover from that mistake, as Cincinnati was held scoreless in the second half. The game barely broke the total of 38 thanks to a 42-yard touchdown scamper by Foster late in the fourth quarter, but the Texans would fall the following week at Baltimore in the divisional round.
This is Cincinnati's first shot at Schaub as Yates beats the Bengals twice last season, including a 20-19 comeback victory at Paul Brown Stadium in December 2011. The Bengals' defense stepped up after the slow start this season by limiting seven of their final eight opponents to less than 17 points. The 'under' cashed seven times in this stretch for Marvin Lewis' team, while the Bengals put together an impressive 7-1 ATS record.
The Texans cashed the 'under' in four of their last five games, but that was due to the offense hitting a snag, as the offense scored 16 points or less three times. Houston had an opportunity to lock up home-field advantage in the AFC, or at least capture a first-round bye, but losses to Minnesota and Indianapolis in the final two weeks cost the Texans a shot at rest. Gary Kubiak's club covered the number at home five of eight times, but compiled a 1-2 ATS record as a favorite of four points or less.
Cincinnati actually put together one of the top road records in the league at 6-2 SU, while covering six times. The two losses came at Baltimore and Cleveland, as the Bengals ended the season with four consecutive road victories (all against non-playoff teams). The Bengals have never won a road playoff contest in five tries, while trying for their first postseason victory since 1990 at the L.A. Coliseum against the Raiders.
Vikings at Packers (-7 ½, 46 ½) - 8:00 PM EST
These two NFC North rivals are very familiar with each other, in fact too familiar. Minnesota knocked off Green Bay this past Sunday just to make the playoffs, but it took a last-second field goal to complete the task. The Packers had a golden opportunity to capture a first-round bye with a win, as their journey to a second Super Bowl title in three seasons will have to begin without the benefit of rest.
Adrian Peterson fell short of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, but the Vikings' Pro Bowl running back ran the Vikings into the playoffs with 199 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-34 triumph over the Packers. Minnesota cashed outright as three-point home favorites, snapping a two-game home losing streak to Green Bay. Christian Ponder threw three touchdown passes for Minnesota, while Aaron Rodgers tossed four touchdowns, including a pair to Greg Jennings. The game easily eclipsed the 'over of 45 ½, the fourth 'over' in the last five meetings at Mall of America Stadium.
The Packers return to Lambeau Field owning a 7-1 SU and 5-3 ATS home mark, as the lone SU defeat came to the 49ers back in Week 1. Green Bay cashed as seven-point home favorites in an early December victory over Minnesota, 23-14. Following an 82-yard touchdown run by Peterson to give the Vikings a 14-10 lead, the Packers outscored Minnesota, 13-0 in the second half for the win. Green Bay's offense compiled 435 yards, but allowed 210 on the ground to Peterson, while the game finished 'under' the total of 47.
Thirty is the key number for the Green Bay defense, as the Packers allowed at least 30 points in four of their five losses this season. The only game in which Mike McCarthy's club didn't give up 30 points was the infamous Monday night defeat at Seattle back in Week 3, a 14-12 bitter setback that prevented the Packers from a first-round bye.
Minnesota tallied at least 30 points four times this season, but only one of those efforts came away from the Metrodome. The Vikings won consecutive road contests at St. Louis and Houston following a 1-5 start on the highway, as Leslie Frazier's squad cashed outright as 7 ½-point underdogs against the Texans in a Week 16 triumph. Minnesota hit the 'under' in five of eight road games, while allowing 23 or more points five times.
The Packers have lost four of their last six playoff games at Lambeau Field, although Rodgers is responsible for just last season's blowout loss to the Giants in the divisional round. Minnesota has dropped four of its previous five postseason contests on the road, while seeking its first playoff win since the 2009 divisional round against Dallas.