NFL Playoffs AFC Conference Preview

By Jason Fryer

Football fans, the NFL Playoffs have finally arrived. With the Playoffs arriving, I felt now was a good time to first break down the first round matchups and then later in the week make my prediction for what I feel will occur throughout the rest of the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans

As everyone knows, the Texans have been in a significant slump the past 4 weeks of the NFL Season losing 3 of their last four games. In fact, if you look farther back, the Texans haven't had a quality game since their win November 11th in a rainy Chicago on Sunday Night Football. Following that game, the Texas struggled to a ugly 43-37 OT in at home to the Jaguars and then 4 days later defeated the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. This shows that this hasn't been a shot term hiccup for Houston, it looks like its been a long term problem for the Texans.

On offense, Arian Foster once again put together another quality season and lead the 8th best running game in the NFL. In addition to that, 5 Time Pro-Bowler Andre Johnson was once again brilliant as he lead the Texans in receptions (112) and receiving yards (1598) and for the second half of the NFL Season was the only person Quarterback Matt Schaub trusted from his wide receiver group. After those two players, the Texans struggled to have anyone else step up on the offensive side of the ball. Tight End Owen Daniels Had a terrific 1st Half of the season (46 receptions, 477 yards, and 4 TDs) but struggled in his final 8 games (15 receptions, 230 yards, and 2 TDs). Arian Foster and Andre Johnson can't do everything so someone else on the offensive side of the ball will have to step-up if Houston wants to get back to being a successful offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Texans are led by Star 2nd Year Defensive End J.J. Watt who had 20.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles on the season. In addition to Watt, the Texans also a solid secondary in Kareem Jackson, Daniel Manning, and Jonathan Joseph. The Texans featured one of the best run defenses (7th) while still providing a quality pass defense (16th) at the same time.

As for the Bengals, they were a team that got off to a very rough start to their season (3-5) and looked like there were getting back to being the bengals of old. However, following their Bye Week, the Bengals were preparing to play the toughest part of their season (vs. Denver and the New York Giants) but came out like a completely different team. Even though the Bengals would end up losing to the Broncos 31-23, it looked as if the Bengals were prepared to turn the corner and they did as they first defeated the Giants 31-13 and would go on to win 8 of their last 9 games (only losing to Dallas by a last second field goal.

Cincinnati ranks just around the middle in both rushing (18th) and passing (17th) on the season. The Bengals running game is led by former Patriot and 1,000 yard rusher (1,094 to be exact) in BenJarvus Green-Ellis. As for their passing game, Cincinnati is led by two 2nd Year players in Quarterback Andy Dalton (27 TD and 16 INT) and two time Pro-Bowler A.J. Green (97 receptions, 1350 yards, and 11 TDs) along with third year Tight End Jermaine Gresham. Like the Texans, as good as these three players have preformed this season, the Bengals need for someone other than Green to step-up.

Cincinnati's defense on the other hand ranked in the top 10 in opponent passing yards (7th) and top 15 (12th) in rushing yards allowed on the season. The Bengals are lead by Pro Bowl Defensive Tackle Geno Atkins who quietly has become the best 4-3 DT in the entire NFL. Along with Atkins, Cincinnati also features DE Michael Johnson, Cornerback Leon Hall, and a number of other quality players on this roster.

NFL Playoffs AFC Conference Preview
Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub (8) looks for an open receiver against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Reliant Stadium. Photo Courtesy By Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports.

Matchup to Watch: Texans Offensive Line vs. Bengals Defensive Line

The Texans only allowed 27 sacks on the season while the Bengals ranked 7th on the season in sacks with 46 Sacks on the season. If Matt Schaub has time to throw, he can be one of the most accurate Quarterbacks in all of football and a nightmare to go against. If you can get to him with bringing only 4 or 5 players each time, then Schaub will tend to make a number of careless mistakes and give Cincinnati chances to win the game.

Prediction: Bengals 23 Texans 17

Why do I feel Cincinnati will win: This is the same exact matchup as last years first round playoff matchup but I feel this is a completely different Bengal team. For one, the Bengals now feature a more experienced offense, Leon Hall's healthy, and a team that's going into the playoffs playing their best football. The Texans on the other hand will have a healthy Matt Schaub (unlike last year when they started T.J. Yates) and Andre Johnson but i feel this teams isn't playing like last year team was at this time of the playoffs.

Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens

I understand that a number of Ravens fans have a problem with the Colts franchise, but unlike previous Colts teams, even the loyalist Ravens fans have to respects and feel good about what the Indianapolis Colts accomplished this year. The 2011 Indianapolis Colts featured 3 starting Quarterbacks in Kerry Collins, Dan Orlovsky, and Curtis Painter that eventually lead to a 2-14 record and the number 1 overall pick. The Colts used that pick on Andrew Luck, and then went through one of the most difficult situations in the history of the NFL when first year head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with Leukemia. Led by Luck, Reggie Wayne, and Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians, the Colts became one joined together creating the slogan "Chuckstrong" and ending up winning 11 games and clinched the 5th seed in the AFC Playoffs. With all that said, we still have a playoff game to play, and I wanted to break down both of these rosters before giving my prediction on who I feel will win this game Sunday Afternoon.

Just like I said above, the Colts offense is lead by the possible rookie of the year Andrew Luck, who broke a number of rookie records that include passing attempts in a season (599), passing yards (4,051), passing yards in a single game (433), wins by a number 1 picks, game winning drives, and comebacks. In addition to Luck, the Colts (which featured the 7th ranked passing offense) have 6-time Pro-Bowler Reggie Wayne (106 receptions. 1355 yards, and 5 TDs) and Rookie T.Y. Hilton (50 receptions, 861 yards, and 7 TDs).

On the other side of the ball, the Colts rank 21st against the pass (236.8 yards/game) and 29th against the run (137.5 yards/game). Though the Colts rank in the bottom 1/3 in both defensive categories, they still have 3-time pro bowl Robert Mathis (lead the team in 8 sacks last season), 7-time pro bowler Dwight Freeney, along with playmaking cornerbacks Darius Butler and Vontae Davis. The Colts featured a up and down defense that made enough plays on the defensive side of the ball to win.

As for the Colts opponent, the Baltimore Ravens had a fantastic first 6 games of the season that saw the Ravens 5-1 succeed without 2011 Defensive Player of the Year winner, Terrell Suggs. Following a 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys, the Ravens found out that team leader Ray Lewis would miss a the majority if not the remainder of that season. If that wasn't enough, Baltimore also learned that they had lost star Cornerback Lardarius Webb to a Torn ACL for the season. Following the loss of Lewis and Webb, the Ravens were able to keep up their steady play winning 4 of the next 5 games but end the season struggling to the finish as they lost 4 of the teams final 5 games and fired Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron.

So how was Baltimore's offensive this year. Well, for the first time that I can remember, the Ravens offensive finished in the top half of the league (15th in passing and 11th in rushing), while the Defense ranked in the bottom half in defense (17th in passing and 20th in rushing). Quarterback Joe Flacco was supposedly prepared to take the next step (following a excellent AFC Championship Game) but instead showed signs of life but not to the point of being considered an elite quarterback. Flacco did have a solid TD-INT Ratio this year (22 TD and 10 INT) but he also featured 9 Fumbles and following a 55-10 win against Oakland, Flacco only had 2 above 90 QR Ratings the remainder of the season. In addition to the pass offense of the Ravens, Baltimore once again had one of their most successful running seasons that includes 2012 Pro Bowlers Ray Rice and Vonta Leach.

Even though Baltimore suffered through a number of key injuries on injuries this season, the Ravens still have Blue Chip Players Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, HalotiNgata, and hopefully Ray Lewis. The 2012 Statistics for the Ravens defense look trembling but with that said, I still feel the Ravens can turn it around and have a successful defense.

Matchup to Watch: Colts Passing Offense vs. Ravens Secondary

The Ravens shouldn't have any trouble on the offensive side of the ball as like I said before, the Indianapolis Colts rank in the bottom 1/3 in both defensive categories so Flacco, Rice, AnquanBoldin, and Torrey Smith should have no problem putting up points against the Colts. On the other hand, if the Ravens want to make this a blow out, then they to make sure there able to contain Andrew Luck and a very underrated receiving core of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have had a number of problems on the road this season (going 4-4 with their only wins coming @ Tennessee in OT, Jacksonville, Detroit, and Kansas City), and have a very below average rushing game led by Vick Ballard. If the ravens control this passing game, then they should have no problem against the Colts on Sunday.

Prediction: Ravens 34 Colts 24

Why do I feel baltimore will win: What the Indianapolis Colts have done with "Chuckstrong" this season has been amazing and no question has to be the story of the 2012 NFL Season. In addition to that, no one knows the Ravens personal better than Colts head coach Chuck Pagano who was with the Ravens since the 2008 season. With all that said, I feel this is where Colts season comes to an end as I expect the Ravens offense to have a great deal of success against a below average Colts defense.

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