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Texans-Bengals Preview: Match-Ups to Watch

Your superb Houston Texans face off with the struggling Cincinnati Bengals tonight in a Christmas Eve showdown.

NFL: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the Houston Texans host the Cincinnati Bengals at NRG Stadium in their Week Sixteen tilt. Houston can clinch a playoff berth tonight (with a win and a Tennessee loss), or nothing could change at all. Either way, there will be some exceptional match-ups to keep an eye on during this Christmas Eve bout.

A Savage New Offense:

Last week, following a pair of first-half interceptions by ex-starting quarterback Brock Osweiler, backup Tom Savage took the field with the Texans’ offense. The response from players and fans was palpable. The shift in optimism was apparent. The offense looked better, with Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins hauling in impressive passes across the field. Even the offensive line looked stronger (or maybe I was just screaming too loud to pay attention). Savage led the Texans to a 21-point comeback, defeating Jacksonville at home and breathing life into an offense that many had left for dead.

Despite being 2-12, Jacksonville houses the fourth best pass defense in the NFL (statistically speaking). Cincinnati is listed as the 12th best pass defense and could technically be an easier task for Savage and Company. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not touting Savage as the savior after half of a game. He’s got a lot of work to do and the Bengals will be prepared for him this week. But maybe he can do what Osweiler couldn’t do all season: protect the football. After all, a mediocre offense can ride the number one defense into the playoffs. Savage at the helm gives Houston the best chance to win, and carry some momentum into the postseason. At the very least, the offense might be more enjoyable to watch.

The Bengals’ offense takes on the Houston secondary:

I was hoping to watch Bengals’ star wideout A.J. Green face off with A.J. Bouye tonight, but it looks like Green won’t suit up. That’s too bad, because that would have been an exciting showdown and a chance for Bouye to show off against a top wide receiver. Instead, the shutdown Texans’ secondary should have a field day corralling the injured Bengals’ offense, especially with tight end Tyler Eifert and Green declared ‘out’ for the match-up. This should lean heavily in favor of the Texans.

A vengeful Houston defense:

Houston houses the number one defense in the NFL even with J.J. Watt on IR. Let that sink in. Despite this outstanding feat, they are sending only one player to the Pro Bowl (Jadeveon Clowney). Now don’t get me wrong, Clowney should be there. He’s been a monster all season long. But so should Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney and a handful of others. The best defense in the NFL should be represented by more than one player, and this unit should be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Mercilus and McKinney, both listed on the injury report, were full participants in practice on Friday and should suit up tonight, giving Houston an even more dangerous front.

Who will start at running back for the Texans?

Lamar Miller is listed as questionable and seems unlikely to be toting the football for the Texans tonight. Instead, it should be a mix of Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, and Akeem Hunt. Luckily for Texans’ fans, the Bengals are missing linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the evening, which should relieve some pressure from the run game. Blue should be able to get things done in Miller’s absence, and a decent run game will be important to Savage’s success. Savage needs to be able to lean on the running backs tonight.

The Texans have a shot at sealing up another division title tonight and giving Texans’ fans everywhere an early Christmas present. The offense has a shot at being efficient with Savage at the helm and the defense will continue to be the highlight of this season. Enjoy your Christmas Eve showdown, Texans fans.