With a history of competitive match-ups, the (3-5) Houston Texans head into Paul Brown Stadium in Ohio to take on the undefeated (8-0) Cincinnati Bengals, hoping they can be the team to end the pursuit of perfection (8.30pm ET, Monday on ESPN).
Unfortunately for the Texans, it’s going to be easier said than done. The Bengals are not undefeated by accident. In fact, they have been one of the best teams in the NFL this year, doing so both on offense and defense. According to DVOA, a statistic that measures a team’s efficiency rating in relation to the league average in a variety of situations, the Bengals are the third best team in the NFL. In offensive DVOA specifically, Cincinnati ranks second.
Additionally, the Bengals have a point differential of 87 and have been impressive in that they have scored less than 24 points just once, against division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals have scored over 30 points four of the eight games this year, including two at home. But really, the Bengals haven’t been any better at home than on the road as they have consistently been on top of the scoreboard.
They have done it all with the NFL’s 10th toughest schedule and with a team that no one really expected to get anywhere, especially given their tendency to fold during the stretch. The Bengals have never gone 8-0 before and have never finished a season undefeated. They likely won’t, as they still have to face the one-loss Denver Broncos and two-loss Arizona Cardinals, but as far as this week goes, it looks very good for the Bengals.
For as good as the Bengals are in DVOA, the Texans are as bad. It is certainly not a fluke that they have lost five of eight games, in fact, that’s probably a surprise given just how bad their efficiency metrics are. The Texans are 30th in the league, otherwise known as third to last, in total DVOA. They are 26th in offensive DVOA and 20th on the defensive side of the ball. Additionally, Houston has a point differential of -31 and have done so while playing one of the top 10 easiest schedules in the league.
The Texans are just 1-3 on the road this year as well and have lost by margins of at least 18 in two of the three losses away from home. Now, to be fair, two of these losses came against the undefeated Carolina Panthers and formerly undefeated Atlanta Falcons. However, Houston’s three wins on the season have come against teams with a combined record of 7-17. But the thing is, the Texans are in the softest division. Led by the Indianapolis Colts at 4-5, the Texans are just one game back of first place and a share of the AFC South lead.
Players to Watch for Cincinnati: QB Andy Dalton, TE Tyler Eifert, WR AJ Green
The Bengals have it all working for them from top to bottom this year. They are playing some of their best football and are doing so by working well on all cylinders. The first of these is offense, and while Cincinnati’s committee running approach with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard has worked reasonably well, this team starts and ends with Andy Dalton (pictured) and the passing game.
Dalton is having one of the best years of his career. The five year veteran out of TCU already has 18 touchdowns and with eight games remaining, is on pace to top the 33 he threw for back in 2013. It is also not out of the question that Dalton surpasses his career highs in total yards and completions. Currently, Dalton already has a career best 67.4 completion percentage but most importantly, he’s taken care of the ball better than any other time in his career. Dalton has just four interceptions compared to the 18 touchdowns and there’s no doubt that his improvement in that category is a huge reason for Cincinnati’s success.
But Dalton hasn’t done it alone. His top weapon, also in his fifth year and drafted alongside Dalton is AJ Green. Green and Dalton have always been able to connect but this year it’s worked especially well. Green leads the team with 50 receptions and 702 yards, accounting for nearly one third of Dalton’s total. He also has four touchdowns.
The only person on the team with more is Tyler Eifert who leads all tight ends with his nine scores, exactly half of all that Dalton has thrown. The Bengals used to have a severe red zone problem, but this year, with Dalton connecting with Eifert for short endzone plays, those problems are a thing of the past. And again, the duo working together so successfully has been huge to the Bengals’ undefeated start.
Players to Watch for Houston: DE JJ Watt, WR Deandre Hopkins
The Texans expected to open their season with a line focused on top bruisers in JJ Watt and top draft pick Jadaveon Clowney. Unfortunately, Clowney has not been healthy and once again won’t suit up for this Monday night match-up. That leaves Watt as the top guy the Texans have.
Watt is an incredible talent and he will find a way to pressure the quarterback. But he’s one guy and as good as he is, he can’t play every position on the field. The Texans are very weak offensively and aside from Deandre Hopkins (66 REC, 870 YDS, 6 TD), who is somehow managing to put up career and perhaps record pacing numbers without a legitimate quarterback, the team doesn’t have much to offer.
Our Preview’s Houston Texans vs Cincinnati Bengals Predictions & Picks
As exciting as it is to see the pursuit of perfection possibly be ended any given week, this one is really a lay-up. The Bengals are at home, they are almost 100 percent healthy and quite frankly, they are just the better team. Unlike in the past, this one probably won’t even be a contest, so our preview’s betting picks predictions have to side with the favorites: