The Baltimore Ravens welcome in the struggling Houston Texans for Monday Night Football. At 8-4, John Harbaugh and the Ravens have a chance to put a choke-hold on the AFC’s sixth and final playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Texans, losers of five of their past six, are clinging to postseason hopes.
It’s a pivotal game for both sides, so what do we look for?
Here are five to get you started:
Can the Ravens Keep Pace In the AFC North?
One game behind the streaking Steelers, time is running out on the Ravens, whose 13-10 loss to Pittsburgh last week now looms large. If the Ravens, now situated precariously for a Wild Card spot, are to steal the division crown, a win over a floundering Houston team is a must.
Will Urgency Be a Factor for the Texans?
In many ways, this game is just as important, if not more so, for the Texans, who have fallen face-first after sprinting out to a 4-2 start. At 5-7, Houston has virtually no shot of catching AFC South-leading Jacksonville, but a win over the Ravens—currently seeded sixth—would enable the Texans to join a crowded throng of conference teams grasping for that final spot.
Win and there’s still a chance. Lose and the season’s lost.
Does the Houston Pass Defense Stand a Chance?
Nobody in the league is worse at defending the pass than Houston, which allows 287 yards per game. Maybe that’s because only three teams are worse at getting to the quarterback than the Texans, who rank 29th with only 19 sacks.
Houston’s front seven has to apply pressure to Joe Flacco, who is 12 yards away from 3,000 for the second time in his three-year career. If they don’t, it will be a long, cold night in Baltimore.
Something Has to Give
It’s kind of like that irresistible force against an immovable object. The Texans rushing attack has been great this season, averaging 130 yards, good for seventh in the NFL. The Ravens, true to form, allow a sixth-best 97.8 yards per game on the ground.
Someone has to blink. But who?
Which Andre Johnson Will Show Up?
Widely considered one of the best receivers in the game, Johnson has put up huge numbers this season, but inconsistency—coupled with extra special attention from opposing defenses—has been a chink in the armor.
Johnson’s 1,018 receiving yards rank fourth in the NFL, but he has only five 100-yard receiving games and has caught five or fewer balls in five games.
If the Texans want to retain a grip on whatever faint playoff hopes they have, No. 80 will need to have a big night against one of the game’s better defenses against the pass.