The NFL playoffs are about to begin, and wild card weekend is set for several exciting matchups, including the AFC draw of the Cincinnati Bengals and the Houston Texans, as well as the New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions. As Mark Maske wrote :
Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Reliant Stadium, NBC (WRC-4)
How the Bengals can win… They went 5-3 on the road during the regular season and are facing the Texans at the right time, with Houston on a three-game losing streak. The Bengals were winless in four games against the Steelers and Ravens but went 9-3 against the rest of their schedule. They lost by a point to the Texans on Dec. 11. The Bengals ranked seventh in the league in total defense and ninth in scoring defense during the regular season. Rookie QB Andy Dalton faces his first playoff game but has been unusually poised all season. Dalton needs to get rookie WR A.J. Green re-involved in the offense after Green totaled only four catches in the final two regular season games.
How the Texans can win… The Texans play the first postseason game in franchise history but limp into the playoffs after a 10-3 start became a 10-6 final regular season record. Rookie QB T.J. Yates suffered a bruised non-throwing shoulder during Sunday’s loss to the Titans. For the Texans to right themselves, they might need to rely on Arian Foster the league’s second-ranked running game and second-ranked defense.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton returned to practice this week after battling an intestinal virus that temporarily sent him to the hospital for treatment. As Cindy Boren explained:
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is feeling better, thank you very much. He was back on the practice field today after a bout with a nasty bug.
“I feel great. It was a tough day [Wednesday], but I feel a lot better than I did. I’ll be out there practicing and be ready to go,” Dalton said (via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Joe Reedy). “It was just a one-day thing. It was kind of out of nowhere. But I feel good now, so that’s a good thing.”
Dalton sought treatment, receiving fluids via IV, at a hospital for his flu-like symptoms after missing practice Wednesday and, Coach Marvin Lewis said in a Sirius interview, spent the night “by the sink and toilet.” Dalton did his best to prepare for the Bengals’ wild-card game Saturday against the Houston Texans and has a bit of a break because the Bengals played the Texans less than a month ago. (Houston won 20-19 on Dec. 11 in Cincinnati.) The teams play at 4:30 p.m. EST Saturday (NBC).
“I’ve watched the film and I know what’s going on,” Dalton said. “Obviously I would’ve liked to have practiced yesterday, but it didn’t happen. I’ll go out there today.”
Mark Maske also previewed the AFC matchup of the Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, 4:30 p.m., Mile High Stadium, CBS (WUSA-9)
How the Steelers can win… They won four more games than the Broncos during the regular season, and their defense probably will find a way to contain QB Tim Tebow and the Denver offense. But the Steelers managed only 13 points in Sunday’s win at Cleveland in the regular season finale, and they lost RB Rashard Mendenhall to a knee injury. The defense will be without S Ryan Clark, who has sickle cell trait and faces possible health risks if he plays in the high altitude at Denver.
How the Broncos can win… The Broncos need Tebow to recapture the magic of the 7-1 run after he took over as starter following the team’s 1-4 start. The Broncos made the playoffs thanks to the Raiders’ defeat Sunday despite losing their final three regular season games to finish 8-8. Tebow threw only two interceptions and lost three fumbles during his eight-game run. He had four interceptions and lost three fumbles during the three-game losing streak at the end of the season. For the Broncos to have any chance, they’ll have to get back to playing mistake-free football and rely on their defense while running the ball effectively and mixing in a big play or two.
More NFL playoffs coverage from Washington Post Sports:
Mark Maske: Does defense still win Super Bowls?
Early Lead: Yates, Dalton ailing