Last Sunday was a pretty rough day for the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens.
The Texans were embarrassed in primetime by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, losing 42-24 at home. Meanwhile, Baltimore escaped with a 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys but lost cornerback Lardarius Webb and likely lost future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis for the season to injuries.
Coming into this game, neither side needed much motivation in a showdown of the AFC's top teams. But after a tough week, you can bet both will be ready for war in what should be the NFL's best game this weekend.
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
When: Sunday, October 21 at 1 p.m. ET
Betting Line: Texans (-7), according to Bovada
Ravens Injuries (via ESPN)
LB Terrell Suggs, Achilles, Doubtful
CB Lardarius Webb, Knee, Injured Reserve
LB Ray Lewis, Triceps, Out for season
DT Haloti Ngata, Knee, Questionable
Texans Injuries (via ESPN)
DE Tim Jamison, Achilles, Injured Reserve
S Quintin Demps, Arm, Questionable
CB Johnathan Joseph, Groin, Questionable
What's At Stake?
Oh, just the title of AFC's best team as we near the midway point of the season. No biggie.
Fantasy Start 'Em, Sit 'Em and Sleeper
For the Texans, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels are must-starts. Ben Tate should be treated like a handcuff and not started, though he always has garbage-time potential. Kevin Walter has been a non-factor in terms of fantasy production this year and should be treated as such.
For the Ravens, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith are must-starts each week. Other than that? I don't love Joe Flacco in this game, Anquan Boldin is a decent flex option and if anyone sees Dennis Pitta, let him know his fantasy owners are looking for him.
I would also recommend sitting both defenses.
Your sleeper is Matt Schaub, who hasn't been very good for fantasy owners the past two weeks but is a nice option if your QB1 is on a bye or has a tough matchup.
Baltimore is giving up just 11.9 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks per game (fourth in NFL), but it is allowing 260.2 passing yards per game (22nd in NFL), and one would guess it will sell-out to stop the run. That could open up a lot of possibilities down the field for Schaub and Houston's receivers.
What They're Saying
There is no question that losing the presence and leadership of Ray Lewis is a huge blow for the Ravens. But Matt Vensel of The Baltimore Sun notes the loss of Lardarius Webb is going to hurt Baltimore's defense much more:
With Lewis perhaps past the twilight of a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame career, Webb's arc was skyrocketing. He hadn't been beat for a touchdown in nearly two years and opponents had started to avoid him. The Ravens locked him up with a five-year, $50 million contract extension. And with national media hype building, he would have made the Pro Bowl this season.
In five full games this season plus the limited snaps before he tore his ACL during the first quarter of Sunday's 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys, Webb had been targeted by quarterbacks just 24 times, according to Pro Football Focus. In Week 2, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick didn't even bother throwing his way once. On those 24 targets, Webb allowed just 11 receptions for 111 yards—a ridiculous average of 4.6 yards per attempt.
Suddenly, opposing quarterbacks don't have to avoid his side of the field. That's a huge loss, and the Ravens secondary is probably going to struggle because of it.
Ravens Players to Watch: Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe, Linebackers
How would you like to be the man who has to replace Ray Lewis? And how would you like to do it with one of the best rushing attacks in football coming your way?
That's the task facing McClain—who is sliding inside from his normal position as an outside linebacker— and Ellerbe, who is taking McClain's spot on the outside. The pair will be scrutinized heavily moving forward, and the first test against Foster and the Texans' running game is a big one.
The silver lining here, of course, is that Lewis wasn't playing his best football this year and the drop-off in production during his absence won't necessarily be severe. It was obvious to many that Lewis had lost a step and simply wasn't making the plays he once did.
Still, if the Texans mash the Ravens in the running game, you can bet all eyes will turn toward these gentlemen. Keep an eye on the Baltimore linebackers in this one.
Texans Player to Watch: Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver
There was a time when Johnson was one of the NFL's elite wide receivers. Has that time passed?
It would seem that way. After six games, he has 25 receptions for 358 yards and two touchdowns, but tight end Owen Daniels has seemed like Matt Schaub's favorite target. But with no Webb available for the Ravens and a pass defense that was already suspect, Johnson could be in line for a huge performance.
If he goes off, the Ravens are in trouble. It's hard enough trying to deal with Foster; if Johnson gets in the groove, the Texans are an impossible bunch to stop.
Key Matchup: Baltimore Offensive Line vs. J.J. Watt
I'm not ready to put Watt in the Hall of Fame just yet, but few players in the league have had a bigger impact thus far this season.
Watt leads the Texans in tackles (32), tackles for loss (seven), sacks (9.5), passes deflected (eight) and fumbles recovered (two). He's a factor against the run and he's a menace to quarterbacks on the pass rush. You can guarantee Flacco will be aware of him wherever he is on the field.
Everyone knows both teams will want to stop the run and put the game in the hands of the quarterbacks. But with Terrell Suggs still sidelined, Baltimore doesn't have a player on defense capable of harassing Schaub like Watt will likely harass Flacco.
If the Ravens contain Watt, they should have success moving the ball. If Watt goes off, it's going to be a long day for the Baltimore offense.
Houston is at home, coming off an embarrassing loss and has only had to replace one vital defensive player (Brian Cushing), not two. I like the Texans in this one, 23-17.
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