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Thursday, January 5, 2012
Rookie quarterbacks kick off NFL playoffs



AP PhotoRookie quarterbacks T.J. Yates (left) and Andy Dalton (right) meet in the Wild Card Playoffs on Saturday.
The NFL Playoffs kick off Saturday at 4:30 Eastern with the Cincinnati Bengals traveling to Reliant Stadium to take on the Houston Texans.

The two teams met in Cincinnati in Week 14, when the Texans scored the final 10 points and won on a six-yard Kevin Walter touchdown with two seconds left that clinched the AFC South title. Houston has won the last three meetings between the teams.

In the 10th season for the franchise, this is the first playoff game in Texans history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the nine seasons before appearing in the playoffs is the fourth-most for any NFL franchise to debut since 1960. Ironically, the three teams to wait longer are all in the playoffs this season as well.

The Bengals are in the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons, but haven’t won a postseason game since the 1990 Wild Card Playoffs and are 0-4 all-time in road playoff games. They’ve lost three straight playoff games, and have the longest active streak without a playoff win in the NFL. Cincinnati’s last win was against another franchise from Houston – a 41-14 win over the Oilers on Jan. 6, 1991.

The greatest season ever for rookie quarterbacks continues. Rookie quarterbacks combined to win 23 games during the regular season, the most of any season in the Super Bowl era. Saturday’s matchup will be the first playoff game in NFL history with each team starting a rookie quarterback. The winner will be the third rookie starting quarterback to win a playoff game in the last four seasons and the fifth in the Super Bowl era.

Andy Dalton became the third rookie in league history with 3,000 passing yards and 20 passing touchdowns. Cam Newton and Peyton Manning also passed both thresholds, but Dalton is the first to do so and lead his team to the playoffs.

Unfortunately for the Bengals, the Texans should be able to exploit one of Dalton’s weaknesses. Dalton had 79 passes batted or defended this season, most in the NFL. The Texans’ defense led the league with 94 passes batted or defended, including eight against Dalton in their regular-season meeting.

The Texans will look to their running game to take the pressure off T.J. Yates. Arian Foster tied for the league lead with seven 100-yard rushing games this season despite missing three games. Over the last two seasons, he leads the NFL in rushing yards per game and rushing touchdowns.

Ben Tate provides a complement for Foster in the Texans’ running game. Foster was fifth in the NFL this season with 725 rushing yards prior to contact. Among players with at least 150 rushes, Tate led the league with 2.9 yards per rush after contact. Despite 103 fewer rush attempts, Tate had nine more yards after contact than Foster.

Of the two, Tate could have more success against the Bengals defense. Cincinnati allowed 2.0 yards per rush before contact this season, the third-lowest total in the league. However, the Bengals allowed 1.9 yards after contact per rush, seventh-worst in the NFL. The Texans led the league with 1,133 yards after contact this season.