And so it begins.
The Ravens find themselves in the divisional round of the playoffs thanks to their first-round bye last weekend, but there are no more byes from here on out. John Harbaugh’s team will need to take to the field this Sunday and battle it out for a spot in the AFC Championship game.
In their way are the Houston Texans, a team that finished the regular season 10-6 and handled the Bengals 31-10 in last week’s wild card game.
Here’s how the Ravens and Texans teams match up statistically going into this weekend’s game:
Ravens: 338.7 yards per game (15th)
Texans: 372.1 yards per game (13th)
Ravens: 124.8 ypg (10th)
Texans: 153.0 ypg (2nd)
Ravens: 213.9 ypg (19th)
Texans: 219.1 ypg (18th)
Ravens: 288.9 ypg (3rd)
Texans: 285.7 ypg (2nd)
Ravens: 92.6 ypg (2nd)
Texans: 96.0 ypg (4th)
Ravens: 196.3 ypg (4th)
Texans: 189.7 ypg (3rd)
Ravens: +2 (t-11th)
Texans: +7 (t-7th)
Ravens: 742 (4th-fewest)
Texans: 852 (17th-fewest)
This is a season of firsts for the Texans. They made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, earned their first-ever AFC South title and then scored their first-ever postseason win last Saturday against Cincinnati.
A large part of Houston’s success this season has been due to its strong running game and its physical, young defense. The Texans finished the regular season ranking second in the NFL in both rushing yards per game and total defense.
Arian Foster is Houston’s meal ticket on offense, as the former undrafted rookie turned in another stellar campaign, rushing for more than 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, despite missing three games due to injury. Foster has excelled in the Texans’ zone-stretch running scheme, as has backup running back Ben Tate, who is also a threat out of the backfield.
Largely due to their impressive rushing attack, the Texans led the league in average time of possession this season, holding the ball for nearly 33 minutes per game.
The Texans’ passing game has taken a hit since Houston’s top two quarterbacks (Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart) went down to season-ending injuries late in the regular season, although rookie T.J. Yates has done a decent job filling in under tough circumstances, throwing for 1,108 yards with four touchdowns and three INTs in his seven games (six starts) under center.
Yates now has wide receiver Andre Johnson back, arguably the top wideout in the game, after Johnson missed nine games this year because of a hamstring injury. The 6-foot-3 beast of a receiver had five grabs for 90 yards and a touchdown last week against the Bengals. Houston also relies heavily on its two tight ends - Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen.
Houston’s defense has really made strides this season under new coordinator Wade Phillips, and despite losing their top pass rusher in Mario Williams due to injury, the Texans’ front seven is still formidable. The Texans have a lot of young talent up front, but defensive end J.J. Watt and linebackers Brooks Reed, Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin have really come on this season and will make it tough for the Ravens to move the ball on the ground.
The Texans also will cause issues for quarterback Joe Flacco, as they held opposing quarterbacks to the second-stingiest passer rating (69.0) this season, trailing just the Ravens in that category.
In their franchise history, the Texans are 0-5 against Baltimore. I don’t see them breaking through into the win column this weekend.
While these teams might be similar in a few key areas, the Ravens have two clear advantages over their opponent - they’re playing at home, where they haven’t lost this season, and they have a much more experienced quarterback lining up under center.
I don’t see this game being as lopsided as some expect it to be, but I do think that the home crowd and the Flacco factor will be enough to lift the Ravens to a 20-16 win and a spot in the AFC Championship Game.
What about you? Do you see a rested Ravens team rolling over a Texans squad that’s lost a number of key players to injury this season? Do you envision a close, hard-fought battle going in Baltimore’s direction? Or maybe you see Houston pulling off the road upset behind their strong running game and impressive defense?
Who you got?