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Bengals-Texans: uncharted territory
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The Houston Texans never have won a playoff game. Of course, they’ve never even played in one.

On Saturday, they host the Bengals, and anyone who can remember when Cincinnati won in the postseason remembers Boomer Esiason as a quarterback in his prime, not as a broadcaster.

“We’ve got some guys who were pretty close to just being born when that happened,” Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “We’ve got some young guys on the team. So I imagine most of them have no clue about it.”

The opener of the wild-card round looks like a toss-up. Yes, the Texans won the AFC South and are seeded third, while the Bengals stumbled into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. And we know that Houston rallied in Cincinnati for a 20-19 victory, which happens to be the last time the Texans (10-6) won.

Meanwhile, the Bengals have lost to every good team they played in going 9-7.

Those facts don’t inspire much confidence in the Texans, who are 3-point favorites, or in the Bengals.

“The guys in here, we can’t worry about the past,” Cincinnati cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones said. “We’ve got a great outlook to the future with the young guys we’ve got here.”

That includes rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green, who have been dynamic and will be keys to whether Cincinnati can advance for the first time since beating the Houston Oilers on Jan. 6, 1991.

Houston has a rookie QB of its own in T.J. Yates, a third-stringer to begin the season. When Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart went down with injuries, Yates came on and the Texans won enough to capture the division. Yates will need to do a whole lot more in the playoffs, as will a defense that allowed the fourth-fewest points in an offense-oriented league.

“Most rookies would come in nervous and that’s something you don’t see in him,” star receiver Andre Johnson said. “If he is nervous, he does a great job hiding it. I have a lot of confidence in his ability and what he can do.”

The stage could be too big for many of these players, which might lead to a low-scoring affair with several turnovers. History is not on the side of either team.


Detroit (plus 10) at New Orleans, Saturday night

Another non-playoff factor for so many years — the Lions last got here in the 1999 season, last won a postseason game in early 1992 and last won an NFL title in 1957 — goes against one of the league’s hottest teams.

Detroit (10-6) has little fear of a shootout because the Lions can score with most opponents; only Green Bay, New Orleans and New England scored more than their 474 points. And they can get after the quarterback with a fearsome defensive line.

But the quarterback they are chasing is record-setting Drew Brees, and the Saints (13-3) have been virtually unchallenged in the Superdome, outscoring opponents 329-143. If turnovers are a key, Detroit might have an edge with a plus-11 margin to New Orleans’ minus-3. Then again, the Saints had only 19 giveaways all season.

Light up the scoreboard, fellas.

SAINTS, 37-24

Atlanta (plus 3 1/2) at New York Giants, Sunday

Weather could be a factor at the Meadowlands, although Falcons QB Matt Ryan says not to worry about his dome team in a northern outdoor environment in January. Ryan did, after all, grow up in Philadelphia and play college ball in Boston.

He might get chased all the way down to Philly and up to Beantown by New York’s reinvigorated pass rush, which has 11 sacks in its last two games, wins that propelled the Giants (9-7) to the NFC East crown. If the Giants can’t get pressure on Ryan, and Atlanta (10-6) can run the ball a bit, that would leave wide-open spaces for Ryan to connect with his solid group of receivers against a porous secondary.

The same is true for Eli Manning, and New York’s running game has come on recently. Look for just enough big plays from Manning, Victor Cruz and the Giants’ sackmasters.

GIANTS, 27-23

Pittsburgh (minus 8) at Denver, Sunday

Ben Roethlisberger is limping, which is better than Rashard Mendenhall, who is out with torn knee ligaments.

Pittsburgh (12-4) is inconsistent on the offensive line. It will be missing safety Ryan Clark, who will be kept home as a precaution due to a sickle-cell trait that becomes aggravated when playing at higher elevations.

Even with those issues, the Steelers should romp against the Broncos (8-8), who lost their last three but, thanks to the charity of the rest of the division, won the AFC West.

Tim Tebow no longer is leading stunning comebacks, and lesser defenses than Pittsburgh’s have figured out how to make him uneasy. Look for Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau to use a super-aggressive game plan that forces Tebow to make quick decisions while thwarting Willis McGahee and the running game.

The Steelers won’t score a lot of points. Denver barely will score any.



Against spread: 8-6-1 (overall 126-107-5); straight up 14-2 (overall 169-87).

Best Bet: 3-14 against spread, 12-5 straight up.

Upset Special: 11-6 against spread, 8-9 straight up.