Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 14, 2017 at 10:51 AM
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HOUSTON TEXANS (0-1) AT CINCINNATI BENGALS (0-1)

KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Paul Brown Stadium. TV: NFL Network, NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya.

SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Texans lead series, 5-4. The Bengals won the first three games in the series, but Houston has won five of the past six meetings, including three games at Paul Brown Stadium. The Texans also defeated the Bengals in AFC wild-card playoff games in 2011 and 2012.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Major focus on this game is that Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson is expected to start his first NFL game. It wasn't official as of Wednesday morning, but the Houston Chronicle reported that Watson's injured right ankle held up fine during practice Tuesday and he took snaps with the first team. He replaced Tom Savage in the season opener and the team likes his superior mobility. Still, the Texans should use a lot of maximum protection after allowing 10 sacks, a franchise record, against Jacksonville. Defensively, the Texans will try to set the edge better than they did last week, when they allowed 155 rushing yards.

On Wednesday, Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was suspended 10 games for violating NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He was already out for this game with a concussion.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is coming off one of the worst performances of his career as he threw four interceptions and lost a fumble last week. He will face a formidable Texans defensive front featuring J.J .Watt. The Bengals' suspect offensive line needs to figure out a way to protect Dalton and prevent tipped balls, two of which resulted in interceptions last week.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

---Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins vs. Bengals CB Adam Jones. Hopkins was targeted 16 times last week, but caught just seven passes for 55 yards and one score. Jones returns from a one-game suspension.

--Texans DE J.J. Watt vs. Bengals offensive line. Watt has nine tackles and a sack in his career against the Bengals, whose O-line came into this season with three new starters before losing guard Trey Hopkins to a knee injury last week. The Bengals' line allowed five sacks and a strip-fumble in the opener.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bengals WR John Ross. The first-round draft choice was a full participant in practice this week, but coach Marvin Lewis said that doesn't mean he will play Thursday night. Ross has been out with a knee sprain since being a late arrival to training camp due to a shoulder injury suffered in college. Ross' NFL debut is much-anticipated after he ran a scouting-combine record 4.22-second 40-yard dash.

FAST FACTS:Texans DE J.J. Watt had sack in his last game at Cincinnati. He has 76 sacks since entering league in 2011, most in NFL. ... Texans DE Jadeveon Clowney had a sack in the last meeting. He led the team and ranked second in the AFC with 16 TFL last season. ... Houston LB Whitney Mercilus has three sacks and five TFL in the past two meetings. His 19.5 sacks since 2015 are fifth among NFL rush linebackers. ... Bengals QB Andy Dalton passed for 268 yards and a TD in the last meeting. He and Carson Palmer are the only QBs in Bengals history with multiple seasons of 4,000 passing yards. Dalton ranked fourth in the AFC with 53 completions of 25 yards or more last season. ... Bengals WR A.J. Green had a team-high 74 receiving yards last week. He has 22 catches (7.3 per game) for 247 yards (82.3 per game) in three career meetings with Houston. He ranks second in team history with 7,209 yards receiving.

PREDICTION: Game could be decided by which quarterback handles pressure the best. This will be a trial by fire for Watson who will not have the team's top three tight ends, C.J. Fiedorowicz (injured reserve), Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson (concussions). The team will go with Evan Baylis from the practice squad. Watson's mobility should serve the Texans better than Savage's strong arm. That will be a big draw to watch the game, but Bengals veteran quarterback Dalton will certainly do his best to avoid opening the season 0-2 at home.

OUR PICK: Bengals, 28-21.

--Frank Cooney

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