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NFL playoffs: Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans

TJ Yates
Texans are favored by three at home

The NFL’s wild-card weekend kicks off Saturday afternoon with the first-ever playoff game to feature two rookie starting quarterbacks in Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Houston’s T.J. Yates. Cincinnati is a 3.5-point favorite on

After limping into the playoffs following three straight losses, the Texans host a Bengals team seeking its first postseason victory in 21 years Saturday at Reliant Stadium.

Making just his second career start after Matt Schaub (foot) and Matt Leinart (collarbone) suffered season-ending injuries in consecutive weeks, Yates led fourth-quarter scoring drives of 83 and 80 yards, respectively, in a 20-19 come-from-behind victory at Cincinnati on Dec. 11.

Houston uses its running attack led by Arian Foster (1,224 yards, 4.4 yards per carry) to take the pressure off Yates. The Texans will be better offensively with the return of WR Andre Johnson, who missed nine games with hamstring injuries. With Johnson available, Yates will be more willing to take deep shots down the field.

Dalton is a classic West Coast offense quarterback: short drops, quick throws, the ball is out of his hand in a hurry. Houston’s defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, who improved the team greatly, will have to decide whether he wants to blitz Dalton and risk giving up a big play or play soft and force the young quarterback to dink-and-dunk the ball down the field.

The Bengals were 5-3 on the road in 2011, but they have not proved they can beat the better franchises. The Texans were 5-3 at home, but Houston rested Foster, Owen Daniels and Johnathan Joseph in Week 17 against the Titans to help them stay fresh for the playoffs. In the first quarter, Yates left the game with a shoulder injury and was replaced by Jake Delhomme. Yates will start in this game, though.

The Texans did get Phillips back from medical leave, which is big from a play-calling and adjustment standpoint. These teams met in Week 14 in Cincinnati, a game Houston won despite turning the ball over four times. The Texans have turned the ball over nine times in their final four regular-season games. This could be a very low-scoring game, and special teams could play a major role. That favors Cincinnati, although kicker Mike Nugent hasn’t been very good lately.

Joseph is one of the best cornerbacks in football. He will be matched up against A.J. Green, Cincinnati’s stud receiver. Green led all rookie receivers with 65 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Bengals’ most dangerous play is when Dalton throws the deep, high-arching pass to Green, who has the athleticism to out-leap multiple defenders. But Green has disappeared from the Bengals offense the past two weeks — which is also the time since he injured his shoulder. He has two catches in each of his past two games for a total of 51 yards. Cincinnati has to get back to attacking downfield with Green. His 11 catches of 35 yards or more are the most in the league and the most by an NFL rookie since Minnesota’s Randy Moss had 14 in 1998.

SA Take: We are leaning toward the road dog and the Under in this matchup.  Cincy +3 and Under 38 is what we put in the system last night when wagering this game. Good luck.

Saturday, January 7th, 2012 NFL Betting 2012

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