Home Team: Cincinnati Bengals (-10.5) (as of 6:00 AM Monday)
Visiting Team: Houston Texans
The best thing about the Texans playing the Bengals tonight on Monday Night Football is that you weren't saddled on Sunday being stuck watching this train-wreck of a team play. The bad news is that you're going to be stuck watching bad football on Monday Night, during a time-frame when a lot of new eyes might tune in to see if the Bengals are any good. This means potentially more people than usual turning the dial over to watch what is possibly one of the best teams in the league take on what is undoubtedly one of the worst.
In the immortal words of Rick Perry: "Oops."
Searching for a glimmer of hope, Texans fans are latching onto the fact that the team is in the woeful AFC South where a 3-5 record is good enough for 2nd place and, in the not-so-great AFC, means that only a game or two separates the Texans from Wild Card contention. Coming off the off (not bye) week the Texans feel they should be rested and the oft-maligned coaching staff has enjoyed an extra week to study tape to try and find the weaknesses in a Cincy team that has shown few so far.
Is it a trap game, as Houston Chronicle Jerome Solomon calls it? I don't think so. For one thing the Texans have won the last five straight over Cincinnati and this means that the team in orange and black should be focused.
If anything, this is a revenge game for the Bengals. As such I think that the final score could be a sloppy as the weather is likely to be. It's supposed to be cold, and rainy, which doesn't bode well for a Texans team who has had difficulties running the ball, and stopping the run.
The Bengals will hit the Texans defense with the dual threat of former LSU running back Jeremy Hill, and former UNC stand-out Giovanni Bernard. I expect Bernard especially to expose the Texans lack of speed at LB and S, and Hill, near the end of the game, to pound the Texans undersized defense into submission.
Even IF the Texans defense slows down the Bengal's running attack, there's still the problem of stopping Andy Dalton and the passing game, which have been excellent this year. Ask yourself this: Who on the Texans can cover A.J. Green? Mohammed Sanu, or Marvin Jones? Do you really think that a slow, suddenly undersized, Brian Cushing is going to be able to cover Tyler Eifert?
On the offensive side of the ball the Texans could be in even bigger trouble. Vontez Burfict is back, and he will be the most active defender in the game (sorry JJ) and the Bengals defensive line has the potential to make the Texans offensive line look non-existent. The Bengals also put tremendous pressure on opposing QB's which means that it could be a long night for Brian Hoyer.
Still, this is the NFL and, as we saw on Sunday, even the biggest of underdogs can find themselves in with a chance. So, if the Texans play solid, mistake-free football, return Dalton back to the turnover-prone QB that he has been historically and find a way to generate some offense they could find a way to win.
But, probably not. I think this game is going to be illustrative of how the Bengals have improved, and just how far the Texans have fallen.
Prediction: Texans 3 Bengals 38
Remember this as well: Monday Nights in the NFL have not been known recently for stirring football. Although it has been somewhat better this year, I think this game reverts us back to form.
I like the Bengals, and the under since I think Cincinnati is going to have to cover this number basically on their own.