Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston (turf, retractable roof)
When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. (NBC)
Spread: Texans by 4.5
Forecast: Temperature outside around 50 degrees, but stadium roof is expected to be closed.
Records: Bengals (10-6; AFC North 3-3); Texans (12-4; AFC South 5-1)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Jan. 7, 2012: Texans 31, Bengals 10; Dec. 11, 2011: Texans 20, Bengals 19. Series record: Texans lead 4-3.
What matters: The next step in the progression of this young, emerging Bengals team needs to be taken. The reformation of this roster following the 2010 season yielded a promising quarterback in Andy Dalton, one of the game's elite receivers in A.J. Green, formation of a premier defensive front four, four Pro Bowlers under 25 years old and back-to-back playoff berths.
All they've yet to do is win a playoff game.
The need to take the next step extends to the head coach. Marvin Lewis in his 10th year, stands as the second-most tenured coach in the league behind Bill Belichick, and yet hasn't won a single playoff game.
"These jobs aren't forever and you have to make hay when you can, as much as you can, and (as) often as you can," Lewis said. "Just like we talk about playoffs for young players, next year is not promised. You have got to go earn it."
What matters stat: There are nine head coaches left who have been with the same team for the last five seasons. Of those nine, five have won Super Bowls. Atlanta's Mike Smith and Lewis are the only in the group without a playoff victory.
Who matters: Bengals defensive line. This front four applied pressure as well as any in the NFL as the team set a franchise record for sacks in a season with 51. DT Geno Atkins finished with 13 sacks, the most by an NFL tackle in the last 10 years. For Cincinnati to win, those four must consistently pressure Matt Schaub.
The Texans quarterback struggled the final four games of the season. Houston lost three of those games, and in the losses he didn't throw a touchdown pass. A combination of five different linemen rotated through the right guard and right tackle position, leaving Schaub struggling amid a constant state of duress. Carlos Dunlap and Atkins will be charged with keeping Schaub uncomfortable from those favorable matchups and that must lead to critical mistakes from the QB starting in his first playoff game. Remember, T.J. Yates played in last year's Houston victory.
Who matters stat: The Bengals defense has scored a touchdown in three consecutive games. Wallace Gilberry returned a fumble for a TD against Philadelphia, Leon Hall stepped in front of Heath Miller for a pick-6 against Pittsburgh and Carlos Dunlap tipped an interception to himself for a touchdown against Baltimore.
Key matchup: OL Kevin Zeitler, Bengals offensive line vs. J.J. Watt. The dynamic Houston defensive end can change the game in an instant. Nobody knows that better than Dalton, who saw Watt intercept a pass for a touchdown that flipped momentum last year.
Watt and his 20.5 sacks will line up all over the line, but spend much of his time over Zeitler. The former teammates at Wisconsin grew up about a mile away from each other. They've been friends since high school, but Zeitler will need to get the best of this friendship for the Bengals offense to click. At every play, Cincinnati will need to be aware of Watt's position and not let him disrupt passing rhythm.
Injuries of note: The Bengals only injury concern centers around S Chris Crocker (thigh). The veteran only practiced one day this week on a limited basis. If he can't go Saturday, it would be a major blow to a secondary he had a huge hand in stabilizing midseason. The dropoff from Crocker to backups Nate Clements and Taylor Mays is steep.
Inside stuff: A.J. Green rarely saw single coverage from defenses this season, but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden feels there could be plenty of it from CB Johnathan Joseph on Saturday.
Last season, the Texans typically stuck their Pro Bowler Joseph on Pro Bowler Green and took their chances. It's the method the Texans use dealing with premier receivers.
The strategy worked to varying levels of success late this season. In two games against Indianapolis they held Reggie Wayne to 7 receptions for 54 yards. Yet, against Detroit Calvin Johnson got loose for 140 yards and a touchdown on eight catches.
Expect passes to head in Green's direction often when locked in single coverage.
Stats you should know: The Bengals defense comes into the game ranked sixth in the NFL and Houston ranked seventh. Yet, these two groups couldn't be more different over the second half of the season. Over the final eight games, Cincinnati ranked first in the league in yards allowed per play (4.31) while Houston ranked 17th (5.34). Here are other second-half comparisons:
- TDs allowed -- Bengals 8, Houston 22
- Points per game -- Bengals 12.8, Houston 24.3
- Turnovers created -- Bengals 18, Houston 15
- Sacks -- Bengals 27, Houston 19
Record watch: The Bengals' last playoff victory came 21 years ago, the longest active drought in the NFL. It's also the ninth-longest since 1933. With a loss, they would move into a tie for seventh in history along with the New York Giants (1959-80) and Los Angeles Rams (1952-73).
Looking ahead: With a Bengals win, Cincinnati would go on to play at Denver. The Bengals held a fourth-quarter lead against Denver in Week 8, but saw Peyton Manning pull away in a 31-23 Broncos victory.
Prediction: Bengals 16, Texans 13 (OT)
Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter @CBSBengals.