KICKOFF: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
PREDICTION: Texans 23-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: C Chris Myers has his hands full as the leader of an offense with a quarterback making his sixth career start. Myers' calls, of coverage and adjustments, ease the burden on T.J. Yates but he'll have to win with long drives as he did three weeks ago at Cincinnati. The Bengals forced Yates to dink and dunk his way to 80- and 83-yard drives. With WR Andre Johnson back from his second hamstring injury, the Bengals' secondary, which has been susceptible on vertical routes, won't be able to release to support the run. Houston averaged 153 rushing yards per game and by pumping the ball to Foster, the Texans dare the Bengals not to walk a safety toward the line.
The Texans have gone four games without an interception after nabbing 17 in the first 13 games. Bengals QB Andy Dalton went 5-3 on the road and his performance didn't plateau away from Cincinnati. That's because the Bengals kept the same approach. They don't back off against defenses that show their teeth and with rookie WRs A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson outside and TE Jermaine Gresham in the slot, Dalton isn't as predictable as he was in the first half of the season. The Texans shut down RB Cedric Benson in the first meeting, and will focus on bottling up the Bengals' backs again and force Dalton to win the game.
FAST FACTS: This is the first playoff game pitting rookie starting quarterbacks since 1970. ... Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has coached in 26 playoff games.
INSIDE THE CAMPSTexans
Not only does running back Arian Foster want to win Saturday's wild-card game against Cincinnati, but he wants to make amends for his performance during the Texans' 20-19 victory over the Bengals during the regular season.
Mike Zimmer's defense did a tremendous job against Foster, limiting him to 41 yards on 15 carries. That's a 2.7-yard average per carry. His longest run was nine yards.
"They're a very disciplined (defense)," Foster said. "They stay in their lanes very well. If you study our offense, you know what's coming, but we know what to expect from them. It's just who's going to execute (the game plan) the best."
Because Ben Tate ran for 67 yards and rookie quarterback T.J. Yates 36, the Texans rushed for 144 yards in that victory at Cincinnati. They finished the season ranked second, averaging 153 yards a game.
Coach Gary Kubiak gave Foster the Tennessee game off just to make sure he's well-rested for the Bengals. If the Bengals load the box with eight players to stop the run, they may leave Andre Johnson in single coverage. If that happens, expect Yates to throw to Johnson early and often - or until the Bengals can stop it.
It's no secret the Texans will run Foster as much as possible. Here are some examples of why Foster means so much to the Texans in general and the offense in particular:
Despite missing almost four games, he ran for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns. He caught 53 passes for 617 yards and three touchdowns. Foster was voted to his second Pro Bowl.
Foster became the fifth player in NFL history to compile consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing and 600 receiving.
The Texans averaged 6.57 yards on first down, and Foster played a big part in that NFL-leading statistic. The fact they led the league and played the last six games without injured quarterback Matt Schaub made their first down average even more impressive.
Foster led the league by averaging 97.9 yards rushing and 140 yards from scrimmage over the last two seasons.
Foster's 30 touchdowns over the last season were the most in the league.
"It's an honor to play in a game like this that means so much to the city," Foster said. "This city hasn't seen a playoff game for so many years (Jan. 16, 1994), and just to be a part of something that means so much to so many makes it extra special.
"I take my job serious, and I'm going to play my heart out for my teammates, myself and our city."
A day after a brief trip to the hospital for flu-like symptoms and missing practice, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was listed as limited during Thursday's 90-minute session as they prepare for Saturday's AFC Wild-Card game at Houston.
"I feel great. It was a tough day yesterday, but I feel a lot better than I did. I'll be out there practicing and be ready to go," Dalton said. "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."
The only saving grace with the illness is that the Bengals did face Houston four weeks ago. In the Dec. 11 game, which the Bengals lost 20-19, Dalton was 16 of 28 for 189 yards and a touchdown.
The big concern though is if the offense can get on track against the Texans. Over the past couple weeks the long ball has not been there. Weather has been one factor and A.J. Green's shoulder injury has been the other.
If the Bengals can get Green open with a combination of deep routes and bubble screens, it could work to their advantage.
Another thing they need to do is get the running game going. Cedric Benson had 91 yards in the first game, but all of that came in the first half. When Cincinnati has struggled early, like last Sunday when it fell behind 10-0 to Baltimore, it was because they were averaging less than two yards per carry and couldn't get a first down on third-and-2 or shorter.
--QB T.J. Yates took his usual snaps in practice and should be ready to start against the Bengals. He showed no signs of having a separated left shoulder. Yates will play unless he's injured or makes some really bad decisions and turns the ball over. In four starts and five appearances, he threw only three interceptions, but he also threw only three touchdown passes - one in the last three games.
--FB James Casey is being used as a tight end again. He caught seven passes for 91 yards - both team highs - in the loss to Tennessee. Casey isn't a secret weapon anymore because opponents have film on him, but he has great hands, squares his pads quick and gets up the field. If he played on a team that used an H-back, the 6-3, 245-pound Casey might catch 80 passes.
--FB Lawrence Vickers played against the Bengals 10 times during his five years with Cleveland. The playoff game is his second game against the Bengals this season. Vickers has become a powerful lead blocker. He also picks up the blitz well. He plays on 30 to 35 percent of the plays. His role is vital to the running game.
--DE Antonio Smith, who finished with a career-high 6.5 sacks, has become an outspoken leader on defense. He played in a Super Bowl with Arizona, so he's no stranger to the playoffs. He's done an outstanding job against the run this season. As soon as the last game against Tennessee ended, he stood in front of his teammates and gave them a pep talk about putting the regular season behind them and focusing on the playoffs.
--SS Glover Quin (6-0, 203) will have his hands full with tight end Jermaine Gresham (6-5, 260). Gresham caught three passes for 45 yards in the first game. His longest catch was 26 yards. Quin can't match him for size, but he can use technique to try to keep the tight end from catching the ball. Quin is a physical player who's fast for a strong safety, but if Gresham gets his body between Quin and the ball, it could mean trouble for Quin.
--S Taylor Mays (hamstring) did not practice for a third straight day and is doubtful for Saturday's game.
--DE Jonathan Fanene (non-injury related) did not practice but is expected to play on Saturday.
--DT Geno Atkins (Achilles) was listed as limited after not being on the injury report on Wednesday. He is expected to start though.
--DE Frostee Rucker (shoulder) was limited after not practicing on Wednesday. He should be set to play.
--C Kyle Cook (foot) had full participation and is expected to start.