The Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans kick off the playoffs for 2012 with a matchup that is in many ways a mirror image. It wasn’t always going to be so, but the loss of Matt Schaub cracked the previous outlook for the Texans, and now these teams share a lot.
If we go by full season results, which include the games with Schaub, then the Texans would have had an outlook very favorable for the playoffs. They would have been a good defense, with an efficient running game, and a pretty good passing game–the exact kind of team that can make a run. T.J. Yates has performed admirably for a rookie, but there has been a noticeable drop off. The Texans were averaging 27.3 points for and 17.2 points against with Schaub. With everyone else, they are at 18.0 points for and 17.7 points allowed per game. The defense is still the same, and pretty good, but the offense is below average. They have gone from a contender, to an average team with the change at quarterback. Yates’ 7.1 yards per pass attempt may look good, but the rookie is taking sacks at twice the rate of Schaub, and so the net yards per pass with Yates is down at 5.9.
The Bengals, meanwhile, look very similar to these new Schaub-less Texans. An average passing game at best, with Andy Dalton playing the rookie QB role. The pass defense is vastly improved for the Bengals in 2011, and the real reason for their turnaround. It’s just not quite to the level of Houston this year. The running game is the other area where Houston has the advantage with Tate and Foster.
Here’s the tale of the tape for this game using the four rate stat factors: net yards per pass on offense and defense, and rushing yards per carry on offense and defense. For Houston, I used the T.J. Yates’ numbers rather than the full season numbers, since we know Schaub is not walking through that door.
As we can see, pretty close in passing offense, the Texans still with the advantage on pass defense, where they rank 2nd in the league, and the advantage with rushing offense.
I went a step further for these initial game previews, and took the above “four rate factors” for each of the twelve playoff teams, and ran a similarity score to all playoff teams since 1990, to see which previous playoff teams are most similar to the ones this year. I looked at differences in the four categories, and also added a win component. Some teams still show up as similar despite dissimilar records, if they were very similar in rate stats. I am listing the top 25 (there have been 252 playoff teams since 1990, so the top 10%) for each team.
Houston’s list would look even better if the full season passing numbers were used. As it stands, Tampa Bay in 2002 is the lone Super Bowl winner on the list (down at 23rd), and if Houston is going to make a run, it will be because of their pass defense, just like that Buccaneers squad. The good news is that three of the top four comps made the championship game. This Texans squad with Yates bears a strong resemblance to the Eagles teams of a decade ago–mediocre passing game but strong running game and a pass defense among the league’s best.
In total, the Texans’ comps went 10-9 in the wildcard round (with most of the losses toward the bottom of the list), but only 5-10 in the divisional round.
The Bengals probably have the poorest set of comps of any of the playoff teams. Not surprising, since they are basically an average team that got in narrowly on a tiebreaker at 9-7. 24 of the 25 comps played in the wildcard round, going 14-10. However, 6 of the most similar 7 teams lost in the first round. Carolina in 2003 is the most similar team to make a run to the Super Bowl.
In this battle that features good defenses and rookie quarterbacks, turnovers will likely be huge because I’m not sure either of these teams can overcome a large deficit. Houston has the home field advantage, and a slight edge in other areas. They won a close contest a month ago in Cincinnati when Yates threw a late touchdown. I think Houston will have enough to get it done today.
The Line: Houston by 4
My Pick: Houston -4
[photo via Getty]