The Houston Texans made the first playoff game in franchise history a memorable one, as they beat the Bengals handily 31-10, basically proving that their season ending three-game losing streak was merely a letdown after clinching the AFC South.
As a reward, Houston now gets to visit the second seeded Baltimore Ravens coming off of a bye week. The Ravens actually struggled a bit offensively down the stretch, so hopefully they used their time off to work on their red zone offense after settling for too many field goal attempts over the final month.
The Ravens are (-7½) favorites at home off the bye, with the total set at a low 35½.
ODDS: OPEN: RAVENS -7 | CURRENT: RAVENS -7.5 | O/U: 35.5
1. Why Houston will cover the spread: The Texans will cover the spread if they can run the ball effectively on offense and stop the run on defense. Yes, you can say “Isn’t that always the case?” Well yeah, except that it is especially true in this game with the quarterback situations and neither will be easy to accomplish. The Ravens have one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL, allowing 92.6 rushing yards per game on 3.5 yards per carry, but if any team can run on them, it would be this Texans team that leads the league with 155.1 rushing yards per game.
Houston simply must succeed running the ball, because the matchup of rookie quarterback T.J. Yates vs. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in passing situations is not a favorable one. Also, the defense must at least contain one of the best running backs in the league in Ray Rice, because Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has been very inconsistent, and if Rice goes off, it would make Flacco’s job much easier.
2. Why Baltimore will cover the spread: Baltimore will cover this spread if the “good” Joe Flacco shows up. Flacco had disappointing numbers across the board this season, completing only 57.6 percent of his passes while averaging just 6.7 yards per pass attempt with 20 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions.
If Flacco is not at least effective enough to loosen up what has become a great Houston defense, then the Texans would be able to focus entirely on stopping Rice.
3. Total Talk: Now by no means are we expecting a shootout here, but 35½ is a low enough total that we do see these clubs sneaking ‘over’ the total. Flacco will need to hit some passes and probably will, and if the Texans are successful in establishing their running game, it would also enable young Yates to connect with one of the best receivers in the NFL in Andre Johnson more often and later in the game.
Conversely, even if the Ravens stuff the run, then putting Yates in obvious passing downs could also lead to points by the Baltimore defense, either directly via returns or indirectly by setting up short fields.
4. Betting Trends for the game: In a couple of trends that are unfavorable for each team, teams coming off of playoff wins by 21 points or more (Houston) are 3-8 ATS the following week since 2002 while playoff teams off a bye (Baltimore) are 9-15 ATS since 2005. The ‘over’ is 12-3-1 in Houston’s last 16 games as an underdog.
Baltimore 23 – Houston 20
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