In national NFL circles, the apparent lead storyline for this weekend's Wild Card opener seems to be Cincinnati's opportunity to atone for their December 11 collapse against the Texans.
Upon a closer look back, it's Houston that has the most to make up for.
The clash in Cincinnati wasn't an example of the Texans stealing a win. If anything, the come-from-behind victory that clinched the AFC South was a case of luck evening out.
The Texans dominated the game from a yardage perspective, leading the Bengals 410 to 285. They controlled the clock for nearly 32 minutes, were above 50 percent (9-of-16) on third downs, had T.J. Yates throw for a career-best 300 yards, and ran the ball for over 5 yards per rush.
All without Andre Johnson, who will be playing Saturday afternoon.
National media types such as NBC's Tony Dungy and ESPN's Eric Allen were among the early predictors to go with Cincinnati, with Allen citing the Texans' well-chronicled injury situation and Dungy the closeness of the prior game.
That's all fine and good, except the injury situation was even worse in early December, and the Yates-led Texans still won.
And if Dungy wants to wonder "what if" regarding the prior matchup, it's just as easy to argue that the Texans -- who trailed 16-3 at the half -- gave Cincinnati a net swing of 20 points through a series of mostly unforced errors.
Neil Rackers missed a very makeable field goal. Ben Tate fumbled after minimal contact on a 1st-and-goal at the Cincinnati 1. Johnathan Joseph dropped an interception that almost certainly would have been returned for a touchdown, after which the Bengals converted a field goal of their own.
It's not to say that the Bengals can't win. Certainly, Yates regressed in his subsequent two games against the Panthers and Colts, as defensive coordinators gathered more film to use in preparing for Houston's rookie quarterback.
While Yates looked very sharp on Sunday against Tennessee, the limited sample size of one series makes it tough to predict whether he truly turned a corner.
But those citing the recent matchup as evidence in the Bengals' favor are quite mistaken. In an extremely superficial sense, it might be argued that Cincinnati "should have won."
But from a practical and predictive perspective, the Texans owned the game and whipped Cincinnati physically. They controlled both lines of scrimmage, rushing for over five yards per carry while limiting the Bengals to just 3.5 (roughly two in the second half).
Houston also surprisingly won the game's air matchup, with Yates throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Cincinnati's Andy Dalton threw for just 189 yards and one score, and was very lucky to avoid the aforementioned interception at the hands of Joseph.
All of that happened in Cincinnati and without Johnson. Saturday's game, of course, is in Reliant Stadium and with Johnson in the lineup.
Nothing with the Texans can be taken for granted, considering the Dec. 22 loss to the Colts. It's possible they could lay a similar egg.
But on paper, this is a mismatch. The Texans' defense (No. 2 in yards, No. 4 in points) is clearly superior to that of the Bengals (No. 7/No. 9). The Houston offense, while difficult to fully evaluate with Yates and Johnson playing, mostly did what it wanted to against these same Bengals less than a month ago.
It's the Texans' game to lose.
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