On Sunday morning, the two premier teams in the AFC will battle to determine which wins its sixth game and which drops to 5-2. While the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens are surprisingly the only teams in the AFC with winning records, this is hardly the matchup NFL Fans were salivating at last week, as three key Baltimore Ravens defenders were injured in their close victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Although the Ravens have won all six matchups between the two franchises, I fully expect the Texans to finally prove their worth as NFL elite with a victory on Sunday, while also avenging their divisional round playoff loss.
AccuScore performed 1,000 simulations on this game and found that Houston wins nearly 60 percent of the time. The average score from these simulations has Houston scoring 25.4 points, while the Ravens get 21.7. However, Baltimore has almost a 57 percent chance of covering the +6.5 point spread, and 54.4 percent of the time, the teams combined to score under 48 points.
Fortunately for coach Gary Kubiak and company, Baltimore will be without LB Ray Lewis and CBs Ladarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, while DL Haloti Ngata has yet to practice this week. Cumulatively, the Ravens come into this matchup potentially missing four of their top defenders, though there is a chance OLB Terrell Suggs returns, but I doubt it. As many as six Baltimore defenders could miss this game, which would be devastating to their chances.
Even without these injuries, this is not the same Ravens defense that once dominated NFL offenses not so long ago. The team once known for it’s outstanding run defense has allowed 200 yards rushing in back to back games against the Chiefs and the Cowboys. Offensively, the Texans shouldn’t be worried, as AccuScore projects RB Arian Foster to rush for over 100 yards and add an additional touchdown. It wouldn’t be a surprise for Foster to surpass that figure early in the 3rd quarter if the Raven’s D continues it’s less-than-stellar play.
If you factor in Ed Reed’s torn labrum in his shoulder, this Raven’s D is an absolute nightmare and a liability against both the run and the pass. While I don’t expect Reed to miss the game, the departure of Webb could factor into Andre Johnson returning to form and having a season high in yards. Matt Schaub fantasy owners be alert—I would not be surprised to see him surpass AccuScore’s projection of 220 yards passing and a TD.
However, if the Texan’s rush attack dominates early, there may not be much reason for Kubiak to call many pass plays. While Schaub is more than a capable NFL quarterback, the offensive mentality of the Texans thus far has been to pound the rock, and I wouldn’t expect them to stop with the Ravens' porous defense. If you happen to own Arian Foster in your fantasy league, there would be no reason to sit him despite Baltimore’s old reputation; he’s going to have a huge game.
In order for the Ravens to stay in this game, they’ll have to dominate offensively, which they certainly have the ability to do. QB Joe Flacco has really come into his own this season (almost 1700 yards passing with an 8/4 TD to INT ratio) and has stepped up and become the offensive leader of this team. Going forward, will Flacco attempt to take over Ray Lewis’ role as the team leader and hope the team follows his example?
As Green Bay showed last week with it’s 42-24 blowout in Houston, the Texans have two huge Achilles’ heels: They have a liability in their secondary with depth problems, and they can’t come back from behind. While no team in the NFL can match the Packers wide receiver depth, the Ravens are comparable due to the talents of WRs Torrey Smith (almost 400 yards receiving, 4 TDs), Anquan Bolding (400+ yards receiving) and TE Dennis Pitta (near 250 yards receiving, 2 TD).
Look for Flacco to exploit the middle of the field, where the Texans are missing ILB Brian Cushing (placed on IR after knee surgery) and have the slower ILB Bradie James as his full time replacement. Smith has provided Flacco with a great down-the-field presence and has great run after the catch capabilities. Johnathon Joseph, Houston’s top cornerback, is listed as questionable and is day-to-day with a groin injury; one has to wonder how that would affect his ability to cover the speedy Smith.
Besides the Raven’s up and coming passing attack, they feature one of the league’s most consistent threats in RB Ray Rice, whom AccuScore projects to gain over 110 total yards and a TD. Trying to stop Rice will be Defensive Player of the Year candidate DE JJ Watt, who has already compiled 32 tackles en route to 9.5 sacks and an insane 8 pass deflections through just six games. Watt has the ability to contain Rice in the run game and to disrupt Flacco through the o-line in the passing game.
Ultimately, this game will decide which team controls the AFC moving forward. While moving to 6-1 would create a two game gap for the loser of this game, the NFL season hasn’t reached the halfway mark and there’s still tons of football left to play. This game will come down to the Texans defense and whether or not they can build a sizable lead over the Ravens with their offense. I don’t see the Ravens being able to limit Foster and company, so Baltimore Coach John Harbaugh must hope for a shootout to protect his defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if Houston walks away with this game easily.
You can follow Colin on Twitter @Metta_Colin and read all his articles at mettachronicles.com