Like the Godfather and Rocky series, sequels sometimes are as good or better than the original.
It wasn’t planned or scripted that way but there will be two sequels in today’s NFL wild-card playoff games.
A year ago the Houston Texans, with unheralded backup T.J. Yates at quarterback, defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-10, in the AFC wild-card round in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. The same teams will do it again, same time, same place. Only this time, the Texans’ No. 1 quarterback, Matt Schaub, will be at the reins.
In the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, North Division rivals, will stage a rematch of their season-ending game last Sunday. Minnesota won, 37-34, to clinch its playoff berth and knock the Packers out of a first-round bye. This time, though, the game will be outdoors at night on Lambeau Field in Green Bay instead of in a climate-controlled dome in Minneapolis.
Both home teams are favored, but that is not always an advantage in the wild-card round. Last season, home teams were 4-0, but the advantage is only 11-9 over the last five years.
Here’s a thumbnail look at today’s games:
Bengals (10-6) at Texans (12-4)
TV: Ch. 2, 4:30 p.m.
The line: Texans (-4½).
The scoop on the Bengals: The Bengals won seven of their last eight games, with the only loss by a single point against Dallas. Cincinnati gave up only 12.8 ppg the last eight weeks of the season spurred by a feisty – some say nasty – rookie linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, and cornerbacks Leon Hall and Adam “Pacman” Jones. The Bengals had 51 sacks, one behind league leaders Denver and St. Louis (52). Geno Atkins (12.5) and Michael Johnson (10.5) lead the Cincy pass rush. Offensively, the Bengals rank near the middle of the NFL, but get big plays from rangy WR A.J. Green, who has 97 receptions, 11 for TDs. QB Andy Dalton (27 TDs-16 INTs) took better care of the ball in the Bengals’ stretch run. ... Leading rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis sat out the final game with a hamstring injury he suffered warming up for the game. The ex-Patriot back gained 1,094 yards but had a pedestrian 3.9 average per carry.
The scoop on the Texans: There is a lot of dread these days in Houston because the Texans lost three of their last four games to blow a top-two seed and first-round bye in the playoffs. ... Houston amassed almost 600 more yards total offense than the Bengals. Matt Schaub’s 22-12 TD-INT ratio isn’t that impressive but he completed 64.3 percent for 7.37 average per attempt. The offensive standouts for the Texans are RB Arian Foster (1,424 yards, 15 TDs) and WR Andre Johnson with 112 receptions for a 14.3 average. Defensive end J.J. Watt was perhaps the most effective defensive player in the NFL with 20½ of the Texans’ 44 sacks, other tackles for loss and passes deflected at the line. Houston’s defensive performance fell off after injuries to linebackers Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed. Cushing is out for the year.
Outlook: Texans need a momentum swing and may not get it. Bengals, 24-21.
Vikings (10-6) at Packers (11-5)
TV: 8 p.m., Ch. 2
The line: Packers (-7½)
The scoop on the Vikings: A month ago, the chance of making the playoffs looked slim. The Vikings had lost five of seven games after a 4-1 start. Then NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson carried them to four straight wins to earn the last NFC wild-card bid. Peterson finished with 2,097 rushing yards, nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s NFL record. Playing with a sore groin and lower abdomen, Peterson carried a career-high 34 times in last Sunday’s 37-34 win over the Packers. Now he will be asked to do it again on the “Frozen Tundra” of Lambeau. ... It wasn’t all Peterson down the stretch. QB Christian Ponder, surprisingly, turned in a solid performance. After throwing for 14 TDs and 11 INTs in the first 12 games, his TD-INT ratio was 4-1 in the last four even though team receiving leader Percy Harvin was out for the season, and he completed 60 percent of his passes.
The scoop on the Packers: Statistically, the Packers have the advantage. They gained 366 more yards and gave up 272 fewer than the Vikings and produced 14 more touchdowns than Minnesota. ... QB Aaron Rodgers played at an MVP level. He threw for 39 touchdowns with just eight interceptions and his 108.0 passer rating led the league. Rodgers has no shortage of capable receivers. Randall Cobb (80 receptions, 8 TDs), James Jones (64, NFL-best 14 TDs), Jermichael Finley (61, 2 TDs) and Jordy Nelson (49, 15.2 ypc, 7 TDs) were his leading targets. However, only Atlanta and Indianapolis enter the playoffs with a worse running game than the Packers. Green Bay has only nine rushing TDs. Green Bay’s suspect defense should receive a lift with the return of veteran safety Charles Woodson for the game. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews returned in Week 15 after missing several games with a hamstring injury. The Packers had 47 sacks – Matthews had 13 – but Rodgers was dropped 51 times, most of any playoff quarterback. Certainly he will be in the sights of Vikings’ defensive end Jared Allen (12 sacks).
Outlook: Too much depends on Peterson. Green Bay, 31-20.
Last week’s results: 9-7 outright, 8-8 versus spread. Season’s record: 141-93-1 outright, 105-113-6 versus spread.