1. Improve the run defense. The Bengals entered the regular-season finale as the NFL's fifth-best run defense. But Cincinnati hardly looked like one of the league's best defensive units in giving up 191 yards rushing to the Ravens' Ray Rice. Two big touchdown runs (70 and 51) did the most damage and occurred because middle linebacker Rey Maualuga got blocked both times. The Bengals can't have the same missed assignments and poor tackling against Houston, which is the league's second-best running team. On Dec. 11 at Cincinnati, the Bengals gave up 144 yards rushing to the Texans.
2. Get wide receiver A.J. Green more involved. The Bengals’ most dangerous play is when quarterback Andy Dalton throws the deep, high-arching pass to Green, who has the athleticism to out-leap multiple defenders. But Green has disappeared from the Bengals offense the past two weeks -- which is also the time since he injured his shoulder. He has two catches in each of his past two games for a total of 51 yards. Cincinnati has to get back to attacking downfield with Green. His 11 catches of 35 yards or more are the most in the league and the most by an NFL rookie since Minnesota’s Randy Moss had 14 in 1998.
3. Learn how to finish games against winning teams. If the Bengals want to win their first playoff game since the 1990 season -- it was against the Houston Oilers and not Texans -- they have to figure out how to win the fourth quarter against playoff teams. Cincinnati has come up short against Pittsburgh and twice against Baltimore in the final minutes of games. And the Bengals had their biggest collapse of the season against the Texans earlier this year. Cincinnati failed to hold a nine-point lead in the final six minutes of the game, allowing rookie third-string quarterback T.J. Yates to drive 80 yards for the winning, last-minute touchdown pass.