Daily Blog • January 5th
Projected Box Score
4:30 pm ET • NBC • @philsteele042 • #AFCWildcard

In the 1st meeting with TJ Yates at the helm HOU had a 412-285 yd edge but CIN converted 3 TO's into 17 points as HOU scored the game winning td with :08 left. HOU rode Foster (153 yds, 6.4) and the defense (3 int for 14 points) in the Wildcard. HOU is +51 ypg at home (+5 TO's) for a 6-2 mark. BAL/JAX/MIA/DEN are the common foes with HOU going 5-0 with a 449-280 yd edge (+4 TO's) and a 35-18 avg score. CIN is 2-3 overall and not counting the 2nd BAL game they own a 342-320 yd edge (-2 TO's) being outscored 26-19. HOU has been outgained in 4 of its last 6 games but they are also just getting OLB Reed back into form.

While Dalton and Green are the face of the Bengals their #6 D is the strength. However, they have only faced 3 top 10 offenses allowing 393 ypg/27.3 ppg (1-2). Atkins is a legit contender for DPOY as his 12.5 sacks are 2nd only to JJ Watt for an interior DL. This is a sound and deep DL that allowed 66 ypg (3.1) rush in the 5 gms prior to BAL. That they are 2nd in sacks by makes DC Zimmer a HC candidate. While the DL is stout, the LB's are avg on a good day though rookie UFA Burfict has been an ideal fit here with a team record 14 starts by a rookie. Unlike last year, CIN's DB's have been quite healthy for their #7 pass D and they have the 9th best ypa allowed (6.7) with a 16-14 ratio. They have done a solid job setting up a still growing West Coast offense with the Dalton/Green tandem. Green-Ellis has been just what the CIN system needed for versatility but he can't carry a game by himself. Green finished 90 yards off the team single season receiving record (1440) and while he can be a top 5 WR in 2 years, CIN has little depth to support him. Gresham has been the best receiving TE for CIN in recent history but Hawkins is a rarely used slot WR. Aside from C Cook, CIN's OL has been very consistent and their 46 sacks (26th) are more a function of Dalton than the OL. CIN's #17 ST's ranking is largely due to its below avg work on KR's.

HOU continues to work off the ground game of Foster who has over 1,200 yds in each of the last 3 years. Schaub only has a 61-30 ratio over that time but it has minimized Andre Johnson's wear and tear. Daniels is at the top of the 2nd tier of receiving TE's as the Texans spread the ball around after that. Walter is a decent but not standout #3 option but the lack of impact from rookies Martin and Posey (16 rec, 10.8) is disappointing. HOU has a borderline top 10 OL provided RT Newton is healthy. JJ Watt's historic season for HOU (80+ plays at/behind LOS) makes the Texans defense what it is. He has 15 more sacks than the starting OLB's (Barwin/Reed) which is unheard of in a 3-4. The rest of the DL is solid but more valuable in run support. HOU has a very formidable CB tandem with Joseph/Jackson but its a concern that they have given up a 16-4 ratio in the last 7 games. HOU has my #20 ST's unit as they have been poor on both sides of KR's.

While they've tripped up getting here, Houston is more well rounded which has me calling for the Texans to dominate at home vs a limited Cincy offense with a still growing QB.

Projected Box Score
8:00 pm ET • NBC • @philsteele042 • #NFCWildcard

Last week's loss was the first time in 6 meetings the Vikings beat the Packers. Peterson touched the ball on 53% of the Vikings plays (45% ttl yds) as Ponder had a clean game with a 3-0 ratio and no fumbles. Rodgers has avg'd 258 ypg (71%) with a 24-4 ratio vs the Vikings whose 28-10 ratio allowed is 29th. Vs NDIV common foes of the NFC West/AFC South GB had an 0-3 start (-44 ypg, -1 TO) but went 5-0 in the rest (+75 ypg, +7 TO's, 36-17 avg score). MIN owns a 6-2 mark for +15 ypg (+1 TO) with a 25-17 avg score. GB went 7-1 at home in 2012 for +31 ypg (+4 TO's) while MIN is 3-5 on the road for -21 ypg (-3 TO's). GB is 6-0 hosting a div foes (33-19 avg score).

MIN's offense goes as Adrian Peterson goes. Missing the single season record by 9 yds, Peterson is just 1 year removed from torn knee ligaments. He rushed for 1,598 yards over the final 10 gms vs Marshawn Lynch who is the #2 rusher this year with 1,590 yds. This is out of need as MIN's best receiving option in Harvin (ankle) has been out the last 7. Ponder has avg'd 161 ypg (59%) with an 8-4 ratio but his 5.7 ypa is less than Peterson's ypc on the year (6.0). The fact that MIN's remaining top 2 receiving targets are a demoted #2 WR and a hybrid TE makes Ponder's job a challenging. MIN's OL is top 10 material which is outstanding as they opened the year with 3 positions having a new starter. The Vikings boast the #16 D and their strength is the front 7 headed up by DE Allen whose lower sack total this year (22 in '11) is due to more attention and improved play by Robison. MIN has a stout pair of 3 down LB's in Greenway and Brinkley who balance each other out. The #24 pass defense has given up a 9-3 ratio in the final 4 gms with their top CB Winfield playing through a broken hand right now. MIN's #4 ST's rankings is well earned with kicker Walsh being perfect from 50+.

After a slow start Rodgers has dominated the passing game again finishing with less than 10 int in 3 of the last 4 years (11 in 2010). The only bad thing that can be said about the Packers offense is that the run game is once again very limited. Part is due to Rodgers (eight 100+ QBR's this year), part is due to design (often just an extra pass blocker) and part is due to injury (Benson IR, foot). Even though GB lacks a 1,000 yd receiver this year, this is still a top 3 unit in depth/talent. GB's biggest weakness on offense is the OL which has had 4 different OL combo's the final 7 games. Despite being one of the most beat up D's, GB's #11 rank is a sign of depth and the fact that they've only played 1 team with a top 10 offense in the last 10 games (DET). Raji is the cornerstone of the DL, Matthews for LB's but GB is also quite deep in the secondary. The fact that they allow 4.5 ypc is due to 2 strong games by Peterson and injuries up front. They are better than their #11 pass D rankings (#4 def QBR) as they allow just 55% completions with a 6.7 ypa (7th). GB has our #11 ST's unit thanks to Randall Cobb on returns.

Peterson has had a special season but he's also coming off a career high 34 rush attempts. GB's surface is much slower than MIN's and GB now gets the crowd edge. Rodgers also gets the same pass defense he's had success with last week. In a shootout I'll take Rodgers with a veteran team that knows how to step up at home.