Many people are calling this one a no-brainer. The Baltimore Ravens can already punch their ticket to the AFC championship game. But it may not be as clear-cut as everyone has been making it out to be.
I see two very similar and even teams in this matchup. One of them is going to have to make plays to win. Both teams have very good defenses and running games, but they could use some work at quarterback play.
You can’t really blame Houston though. Injuries have forced rookie T. J. Yates under center. However, he hasn’t done as bad as many would have expected. Yates’ starting record and touchdown-interception ratio are the same (4-3). He has been doing enough to win some games for the team at times, and not enough other times.
Yates is going to try and face the daunting task of throwing on a Ravens’ pass defense that ranks 4th in the NFL. Ed Reed hasn’t lost much of a step and the whole secondary is very solid. Lardarius Webb (5 interceptions) and some of the other corners will be making some plays and make it extremely difficult for Yates to throw the ball.
Along with that, the Ravens have a terrifying front seven. They rank 2nd in the NFL against the run. The defensive line of Haloti Ngata, Cory Redding, and Terrence Cody get the job on trying to contain one of the best backs in the game, Arian Foster. Foster was shut down by the Ravens the last time the met, but he looks like a solid bet to go off after his game against the Bengals. The offensive line will help him there.
Then you have the linebackers. Jarrett Johnson. Ray Lewis. Jameel McClain. Terrell Suggs. Nobody wants go up against those guys. Throwing Ben Tate in the mix for the Houston rushing attack should mix things up a bit and try to get the offense going against the stingy Ravens.
With all that being said about the Ravens’ defense, don’t forget what Wade Philips has done for the Texans’ defense this season. They are 3rd against the pass and 4th against the rush. Not too shabby for a unit that was the weak spot last year.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has fallen off in the second half of the season, not once topping 300 yards. However, the Ravens did go 6-2 in those games. Flacco needs to step in this game and truly show that he is the quarterback that will lead this team to the Super Bowl. Jonathan Joseph and the Texans’ secondary will not make this easy for him, but otherwise, things look to be set up well for Flacco to succeed. He is playing at home, where the Ravens haven’t lost all season.
Torrey Smith will be key for Flacco. He’s going to need to use him to stretch the field. Anquan Boldin must get going as well. But nothing is more important than Ray Rice and the ground game.
I cannot stress enough how important it is for Ravens’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to give Rice the carries he deserves. Even if it isn’t working at first, they must not stray away from running the ball.
Rice is without a doubt one of the best backs in the league, which is why it is a must to give him the ball in the first place. Hopefully Baltimore has learned that by now. In their four losses, Rice carried the ball and average of 9 times.
There are some differences between this game and the game they played earlier this season. The Texans have Andre Johnson back, but are without Matt Schaub. Yates will need Johnson to make some plays for them if they want to have any chance in the passing game.
That being said, I have to give the advantage to the Ravens. Playing at home and with a quarterback who has experience in the playoffs will be enough for them. I can see Yates throwing a couple of picks that will ultimately be the difference. Foster and Rice will both have good days on the ground, but expect the seasoned Flacco to outduel Yates, the newcomer. The Ravens will squeeze by into the championship game.
Baltimore 17, Houston 10