With the New England Patriots enjoying their bye week and Patriots-related news that doesn't involve getting healthy and doing some self-scouting running pretty thin at the moment, I though that today and tomorrow would be a good time to take a closer look at the two AFC Wild Card games taking place this weekend and how each game looks from a Patriots standpoint. After all, this was a three day work week, and none of us are doing anything productive until Monday at the absolute earliest. So let's all just get our slack on.
The first AFC playoff game of the postseason will take place on Saturday at 4:30 as the Houston Texans host the Cincinnati Bengals. Houston is absolutely reeling right now and spent the last quarter of the season falling from the #1 Seed in the AFC to having to play a game this weekend, much to the delight of Pats fans. Cincy, on the other hand, has won 7 of their last 8 and seems to be peaking at the right time. When these two teams met in the playoffs last year, Cincinnati's youth and inexperience played a major factor as the Texans rolled to a 31-10 win. This year, however, represents a fairly different Bengals team with a much-improved defense, solid running game (atta boy, Benny!), and another year of developing chemistry between Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. The Bengals should give the Texans all that they can handle on Saturday, and unless Houston gets their act together, it could be an early playoff exit for what was once the best team in the AFC.
So which team victory is better for the Patriots? I guess the answer to that question depends on what kind of football fan you are. If you count yourself among those who would absolutely love to see a Brady vs. Manning AFC Championship Game where Tommy B goes into Mile High and puts a hurting on the Broncos and once again reminds everyone who the greatest quarterback of all time is, then I imagine that you'll want the Bengals to win this game. A Cincy victory will send the Bengals to Denver, where I'm not sure they will be able to match up to the Broncos offense. The Bengals are the only AFC team playing this weekend that the Patriots definitely won't be playing next weekend, so rooting for the Bengals on Saturday pretty much means you want Denver to have the softest matchup possible so they can win and get ready for hosting the winner of the other AFC Divisional Game - hopefully the Patriots.
However, if you are a
coward conservative fan like me who wants to stay in Foxboro for as long as humanly possible and can't fathom the thought of having to deal with the storylines that will accompany yet another Brady vs. Manning playoff showdown, then you should be pulling for Houston in this one. The Texans have the ability to control the clock with the running game, generate a ton of pressure, and stretch the field and test Denver's safeties. Plus, Houston already beat Denver, in Denver, earlier in the year, so they should go into that game with a ton of confidence.
Obviously, this is just my opinion; I believe that, in spite of their recent struggles, the Texans are a better team than the Bengals and have a better chance of beating Denver in the Divisional Round should they travel there. You can make a case for Cincinatti being hotter with more momentum and better balance at this stage of the season, but I personally think that Houston is better equipped to handle the Broncos, thus increasing the chances of the AFC Championship Game being played at Gillette.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I realized shortly after I posted this that if Houston wins, they will automatically be playing the Patriots as the 3 seed, thus making the article, much like this work week for me, useless. Oh well. I'm still going to be rooting for Houston, as the Ravens and the Colts both have better chances of beating the Broncos than the Bengals do.