After limping into the first-round of the playoffs on a losing streak, the Houston Texans reversed their fortunes dramatically last week, with a decisive victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in their first ever post-season clash. However, the task of advancing will get significantly harder for the youthful Texans as they travel to Baltimore to do battle with a Super Bowl contending Ravens squad.
While the Ravens certainly had their ups and downs this season, and were forced to endure severe lacks of consistency, when they’re on top of their game, they remain one of the premier squads in football. The magnitude of this post-season should bring out the best in Baltimore, and with Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs calling this Baltimore team special, and the best they’ve ever played on, they are well-aware it could be their last legitimate shot at winning an NFL championship.
This contest should feature a battle between two of the sport’s most dominant running backs, in Arian Foster and Ray Rice. Both teams are definitely run-first and viewers should expect a steady dose of the ground game come Sunday afternoon. These teams have met once before in the regular season, with the Ravens controlling every facet of the game en route to a 29-14 beating of Houston. The Texans got beaten badly at the line of scrimmage against a physical Baltimore side, and it will be interesting to see their adjustments on Sunday.
Health-wise, both teams are entering relatively unscathed despite the intensity the post-season typically brings. Of course, the Texans are already without Matt Schaub and Mario Williams, but their replacements have filled in adequately. Andre Johnson is still battling a hamstring injury, but has been able to fight through it and will do so again on Sunday. For the Ravens, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is officially listed as questionable and may not be able to suit up. In his absence, the Ravens possess great depth at key defensive positions, and replacing Ayanbadejo won’t be difficult, especially with Lewis and Suggs firmly entrenched in their line-backing corps.
Texans vs. Ravens Spread, Line, and Betting Odds:
Houston Texans +7.5 (-110)
@ Baltimore Ravens -7.5 (-110)
Over 36 (-110)
Under 36 (-110)
Texans vs. Ravens Pick:
The Texans finally made the playoffs after countless years of futility, and though they’re currently undefeated in their one-game post-season history, the run is about to come to an abrupt ending in Baltimore. This is a Texans squad that badly limped into the post-season this year, and even lost a game to the abysmal Indianapolis Colts. Their quarterback is a rookie who was drafted in the 5th round and while T.J Yates has exceeded all expectations, going up against a vicious defense like Baltimore’s, is a recipe for disaster for a Texans team that doesn’t know what it’s getting into.
The Ravens fell into trouble this season when they lacked motivation or went up against a bad team in a traditional letdown game. In the playoffs, letdown games don’t exist, especially for a veteran-laden squad well-aware this could be their last chance at hoisting the Lombardi trophy. After already thrashing Houston earlier in the regular season, Baltimore will enter this game looking to replicate their first meeting where the Ravens controlled the lines of scrimmage on both sides of the football. In that game, Houston, which normally employs solid protection on its offensive line, was dismantled by the Ravens’ pass-rush, and look for that trend to continue on Sunday.
Moreover, in that contest the Baltimore defense had their way with the experienced Matt Schaub in the regular season. The Ravens blitzed all day long on Houston and the Texans couldn’t respond. Now, with Houston having Yates play under centre, expect the former Tar Heel to struggle mightily in his first match-up against a ferocious Ravens defense.
Look for Baltimore to control this game with their dominant rushing attack led by Ray Rice. While Houston has a very capable defense, both against the pass and rush, Flacco and his receivers must be accounted for as well. This should allow Rice the freedom needed to take over. Expect the Texans offense to be relatively stagnant in Baltimore, and Foster will be hard-pressed to improve on the 50 yards he managed in their first meeting.
One point to note; Yates has yet to face a 3-4 defense in his NFL career, and it will be very interesting to see how he responds. My feel is that the Texans’ offense will be irrelevant on Sunday, and the Ravens win in a rout en route to the AFC Championship game.
PICK = Ravens -7.5 @ www.5dimes.com