Texans vs. Ravens: 4 Storylines to Watch in Divisional Round Matchup

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIJanuary 15, 2012

Texans vs. Ravens: 4 Storylines to Watch in Divisional Round Matchup

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    With the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans getting ready for kickoff, let's take a look at four storylines to pay attention to as you are watching the game.

    This matchup of veterans vs. young guns will be a hard-fought battle that should go down to the wire.

    The winner of this game will go to the AFC championship to take on the New England Patriots, but if the excitement isn't already enough, this list of storylines should make the game all the more intriguing.

The Rematch

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    The Texans have already traveled to Baltimore once this season to take on the Ravens, and Houston left losers that week by a 15-point margin.

    This week's line is closer to one touchdown in favor of the Ravens, but I would expect this game to be even closer than that. The Texans have really grown as a team since that game, fighting through injury after injury and becoming a better team because of it.

    Now, all the Texans are missing is their starting quarterback and outside linebacker.

    That seems like a lot to be missing, but it won't have as much of an effect as you might think. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates has played well in Matt Schaub's absence, showing the ability to run the offense and complete passes effectively while leaning on the stout running game.

    The Ravens know how to slow down offenses, though, and they may be too much for Yates to handle. Either way, this should be a hard-fought game, and the fact that Houston already lost to the Ravens once this season should give them some added incentive.

Arian Foster vs. Ray Lewis

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    It's no secret that the Houston Texans have one of the top rushing offenses in the NFL, while the Ravens have one of the best rush defenses. The Ravens got the best of Houston the first time around.

    More specifically, though, this game could come down to Arian Foster vs. Ray Lewis.

    Foster is a supremely talented back that exploded onto the scene last season and continued his success this season. He is the biggest weapon the Texans have outside of Andre Johnson, whose effectiveness has been limited by both injury and a more limited passing game. Foster will be counted on to be the biggest producer for the offense.

    Meanwhile, Ray Lewis is the heart and soul of the Ravens D, and despite his age, he is still a beast against the run. He will have a big say in how effectively the Texans run the ball.

    Even more intriguing, though, is Lewis' relationship with Foster off the field. The two have formed a close friendship, and Lewis has been a mentor to Foster both on and off the field. It's always refreshing to hear a feel-good story during an intense game, but you can bet Foster and Lewis won't be friends when they are cracking pads.

The Monkey on Houston's Back

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    Houston finally got a big monkey off its back by making the playoffs this year, to the delight of head coach Gary Kubiak, who probably would have lost his job had they not made it this year.

    Kubiak's hard work is finally paying off, and his team further rewarded him with a big victory in their first playoff game.

    This week, however, the Texans have another big monkey to get off their collective back: beating the Baltimore Ravens.

    Houston is 0-5 all-time against the Ravens, and today would be a very, very good time to notch that first win, as it would secure them a spot in the AFC championship against the New England Patriots.

    If the Texans could somehow pull off a feat as impressive as a road victory over Baltimore, they probably will have secured Kubiak's job for years to come. That's not to say his job won't be secure if they lose, but it certainly wouldn't hurt his status by any means if they won.

What About Joe Flacco?

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    Joe Flacco has had a pretty good year for the Ravens, throwing for over 3,600 yards for 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

    However, Flacco is rarely thought of as a top NFL quarterback, and apparently he's noticed.

    Flacco evidently feels like he is not getting the respect he deserves for his play on the field, and while he may be right, he will have to go and prove it against the Texans today.

    He may end up struggling, though. If he tries to force big plays with his arm rather than just running the offense and taking shots when they are open, he may end up being more of a detriment than a help to his team.

    Flacco may deserve more respect than he gets, but his No. 1 priority should be helping his team get to the Super Bowl. A ring might do a little bit for the level of respect he gets going forward.

    That starts today against the Texans.