The Houston Texans will travel to M&T Bank Stadium in the divisional playoffs on Sunday to face the Baltimore Ravens who went undefeated at home this season and have pretty much had the Texans' number. The Ravens, who are 5-0 all-time against Houston, are looking to win their fourth straight playoff opener. Not having played in a home playoff game since 2006, they will be seeking to stop a playoff-inexperienced Houston team who won their first-ever postseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals during wild-card weekend.
Back in October, the Ravens beat the Texans at home 29-14, but worked for those points. Matt Schaub was the Texans quarterback at the time, but star wide receiver Andre Johnson was out with a hamstring injury. Ravens QB Joe Flacco threw for 300 passing yards and running back Ray Rice had 161 total yards. However, Flacco didn't throw a touchdown and Rice didn't rush for one, underscoring Houston's incredible second-ranked defense. At the same time, Baltimore held standout running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate to 90 combined yards and no touchdowns.
So, the fact is that both teams' running games will have to be neutralized for either team to have the better chance to win. Baltimore was second against the run this year (92.6 yards per game), while the Texans were fourth (96.0 yards per game). Houston was second in rushing (153.0 yards per game), while the Ravens were 10th (124.8 yards per game), but with nose tackle Haloti Ngata in the middle of and leading the Ravens' defensive line, Foster and Tate, despite a hard-working offensive line in front of them, will be hard-pressed to find the gaps they are looking to run through for maximum gains.
If the Texans do manage to slow down the Ravens run game, they have to deal with Flacco, who does have a decent 4-3 postseason record. Flacco is capable of throwing the deep ball and has the weapons to do that. In their regular-season matchup against the Texans, Anquan Boldin hauled in eight receptions for 132 yards. Rookie Torrey Smith caught a 51-yarder that game, and for the season, averaged about 17 yards a catch. For the Texans, T.J Yates has Johnson, Kevin Walter and Bryant Johnson to throw to. And, by leading his team to a win against the Bengals last weekend, his ability to win another one shouldn't be discounted, even if he is just an inexperienced, third-string rookie.
Flacco, in his seven career postseason games, has four TD passes with seven interceptions and two lost fumbles, throwing for less than 190 yards and completing below 58.0 percent in six of them. Luckily for him, all of those games were on the road. He has a 96.1 quarterback rating over his last four home games. And, with a Baltimore defense that led the league in sacks this season with 48, Flacco should stay on the field longer to make the most of his throws.
Each team's defense is very stout and both will work to stop the running game. That leaves the game being decided on the passing offense. Flacco is the more experienced quarterback, has more receivers that can move the chains to eat up clock and has the stronger arm that can break the game open at the right time. The Ravens will win in a close one-a closer one than last time-23-20.