Coming off of a convincing win against the Cincinnati Bengals last week, the Houston Texans face a much tougher challenge in the Divisional round (Sunday, 1PM, CBS) when they travel to M&T Bank Stadium to face a Ravens team that defeated these upstart Texans in Week 6 by a score of 29-14.
Preview: In their Week 6 contest, the Houston Texans were tore apart by the Baltimore offense as quarterback Joe Flacco lit up the Texans secondary for 305 yards, while running back Ray Rice trampled over a proud unit that had previously only allowed 86 rushing yards per game for 101 rushing yards and 60 receiving yards.
Conversely, the Texans mighty ground assault was held to a combined 90 yards, and the Houston passing attack was held to just 220 yards.
But this was a Texans team without outside receiver Andre Johnson and linebacker Mario Williams.
Without Johnson in the lineup, the Ravens already near elite defense was able to stack the box with an additional man in an effort to contain the two-headed monster of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, while playing shallow man coverage the rest of the way to neutralize any thought of play-action deep passes.
This time around, however, the Ravens will have to feature more two-deep safety looks to compensate for the seemingly unstoppable Johnson, which could open the flood gates and entertain a game of redemption for Foster and Tate.
The Ravens, on the other hand, can easily put themselves into a position to win if they simply continue to do what they have been doing over the past seven games, and that's allowing Joe Flacco to manage the game rather than airing it out.
In the first nine games of the season, Flacco attempted roughly 40 passes a game, but in his last seven contests, he trimmed things back to a mere 25 attempts per game—six of those seven contests resulted in wins.
The Ravens can also help this approach by getting their dual-threat RB Ray Rice involved early and often. Rice is coming into this game with career numbers in rushing yards (1,364), TDs (12) 100+ yards games (6) and receiving yards (704).
Prediction: While I would love to take the "sexy" pick in Houston, I can't ignore the maturation process this Baltimore Ravens team has undergone this season. The Ravens finally look like a convincing playoff team that has the necessary tools and skill-sets to make it all the way to the Super Bowl.
But does that mean this Baltimore team is a guarantee to win? No.
If—and it's a big if—the Texans can get their ground game going, stop Ray Rice while forcing a few turnovers, then they may have a chance to pull off the upset—the Texans are more than capable of doing so.
In the end, however, the more experienced and mature Ravens should wind up edging this Houston Texans team in what should otherwise turn out to be the game of the week.
Ravens 28 - Texans 24