This marquee match-up features the only teams in the AFC that are over .500, as each team comes in 5-1. This is also a rematch of last season’s divisional-round playoff game that the Ravens won 20-13 in Baltimore.
Despite the sterling records, both teams come into the game after being humbled in the previous week.
Baltimore was severely out-played last week, but still pulled out a 31-29 victory over the anti-clutch Dallas Cowboys. However the story from that game was the season-ending injuries to cornerback Lardarius Webb (ACL) and linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps). Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata left the game with an MCL injury, but is expected to play.
The Texans come in off their first loss of the season, as they were drubbed by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. It was the first game Houston had against a legit, playoff-caliber team, and they were embarrassed on national television.
Arian Foster was completely contained despite rushing for two 1-yard touchdowns. His 29 yards rushing were by far a season-low, and were also Foster’s lowest total since 2010.
Matt Schaub has also been unimpressive of late as he has as many interceptions as touchdowns in his last three games. Andre Johnson hasn’t had more than 75 receiving yards since week 1, so he has also been a culprit for an offense heading the wrong way.
For the Ravens, the story continues to be the lackluster effort from the once-vaunted defense, namely the ability to stop the run. The Ravens allowed over 200 yards rushing for the second straight week, and now must overcome the losses of Lewis and Webb. It won’t be an easy task to get on track as the Ravens look to turn their 26th-ranked run defense around against the likes of Foster and the Texans’ sixth-rated rushing attack.
There is a ray of hope on the injury front, as linebacker Terrell Suggs will travel with the team to Houston. Suggs must be removed from the PUP list by 4 p.m. EST on Saturday in order to be eligible to play. With Suggs having done little to no football activity and a bye week on the horizon, I wouldn’t expect Suggs to be rushed back to play, especially with Baltimore coming into the game tied for first in the conference.
Houston found out what life after Brian Cushing was like, as the linebacker’s vacancy was very noticeable as Green Bay went off for 42 points and 427 yards. Both Cushing and Lewis were two of the top inside linebackers at football, but now both are lost for the season with injuries, leaving gaping holes on their respective defenses.
What the Texans still do have is the most dominant defensive player in the NFL in J.J. Watt. The second-year defensive end leads the league with 9.5 sacks and has been an absolute terror to try to contain. Watt has had an uncanny ability to knock down passes, as his eight passes defended lead all defensive lineman and are three behind the league leader.
A big match-up in this game will be Ray Rice against the Texans defense. Rice found the end zone twice last week, while the Texans are the only team yet to allow a rushing touchdown. With a banged-up defense and Foster on the opposing sideline, look for the Ravens to try to control the clock with the rushing game, much like the Chiefs and Cowboys did to them in the previous two weeks.
The Texans could not have caught the Ravens at a better time, as the Ravens’ defense has so many problems to fix and now must do so without Lewis and Webb. With Suggs unlikely to play also, this is a chance for the Texans to both get revenge for last year’s elimination while assuming the top spot in the AFC. Baltimore is in a unique spot as sizable underdogs and I expect a solid effort in the team’s final game before their bye. It just seems there is too much up in the air for the Ravens right now as the Texans are at home and looking to establish themselves as the best team in the conference. The Ravens will play valiantly, but playing in their first game without two studs will be too much to overcome as the Texans will take this game 27-20.