The Baltimore Ravens (12-4) host the Houston Texans (10-6) at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday in an American Football Conference divisional playoff game that pits a team that has been unexpectedly strong on the road against a team that is undefeated at home.
The Ravens not only won all of their home games, but also did it in convincing fashion. Of Baltimore's eight home victories, five were by 10 or more points.
Despite key injuries, the Texans found their way into the playoffs with five road victories, and by a scoring margin of nearly 17 points. However, one of Houston's three losses was to the Ravens in Week Six, 29-14.
Matt Schaub was the starting quarterback against Baltimore then, and while the Texans forced two Ravens turnovers, and only had 15 penalty yards, they still came away with a defeat.
This weekend, it will be T.J. Yates back under center. The rookie had a solid outing against Cincinnati in the wild-card game last week, as Houston easily defeated the Bengals, 31-10. Yates completed 11 of 20 pass attempts for 159 yards and one touchdown, without an interception.
However, the Texans rely heavily on their running game. Despite injuries, they finished with the second most rushing yards in the league. Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster rushed for 1,224 yards in 13 games, while rookie Ben Tate rushed for 942 yards in 15 games.
Against Cincinnati, Foster rushed for 153 yards on 24 carries, garnering two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson, who has been sidelined for parts of the season with hamstring injuries, is expected to play this weekend. Tight end Owen Daniels, who led Houston in receiving yards this season, has been limited in practice this week, but should be available.
While the Texans' offense has survived without Schaub, and even without second-string QB Matt Leinart, their defense has had a lot to with the success of the team. In the NFL, Houston ranked third in opposing passing yards (189.7) and fourth in opposing rushing yards (96).
Even with linebacker Mario Williams sidelined, the Texans' defense has stepped up. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph is the only defensive player on the squad who is on the 2012 Pro Bowl roster, but defensive end J.J. Watt made a Pro Bowl-worthy play last week when he intercepted a pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
Houston may have to rely on plays like that to beat the Ravens.
Although Baltimore may not have put together a convincing win in the past four weeks, the Ravens have had an impressive season. Once again, Baltimore finished with one of the best defenses in the league, ranking fourth in opponents' average passing yards (196.3) and second in opponents' rushing yards average (92.6). And the Ravens are sending four defensive players to the 2012 Pro Bowl in Honolulu on Jan. 29: lineman Haloti Ngata, linebackers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis, and free safety Ed Reed.
There is a lot of pressure on Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco going into the weekend. He will be facing a tough defense in a playoff game in what has been perhaps his worst season in the NFL. Flacco fumbled the ball nine times this year, completed just 57.6 percent of his passes, and was intercepted 12 times.
However, Flacco has had his moments this season, too, amassing 300 or more passing yards in each of four games. Against the Texans, Flacco completed 20 of 33 passes for 305 yards, although he failed to throw a touchdown pass.
Ray Rice remains the Ravens' most dominant offensive weapon. The Pro Bowl running back rushed for 1,364 yards, and 12 touchdowns, while gaining 704 receiving yards on 76 catches.
Baltimore also heavily relies on Anquan Boldin. The wide receiver has battled knee problems this season, but is listed as probable.
LINE: Ravens are favored by nine points.
OVER/UNDER: 36 points
PREDICTION: This game will probably be closer than most people think. Although Yates has had his ups and downs, he proved that he is capable of holding onto the ball, and Houston has an excellent running game to fall back on should he struggle. Baltimore's offense may rely too heavily on Rice, and the Texans' defense is capable of containing him. Expect the Ravens to edge Houston with strong performances from wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Ed Dickson.
PREDICTED SCORE: Ravens over Texans, 17-14