3. The Ravens will struggle to finish drives against one of the best defenses in the NFL, but they will come away with points with a healthy Billy Cundiff. One of the biggest criticisms stemming from their regular-season win over Houston was the Ravens’ inability to finish drives with touchdowns, settling for five field goals in the 29-14 victory. Under new coordinator Wade Phillips and with the free-agent signing of cornerback Johnathan Joseph, the Houston defense has been revitalized, finishing second overall in yards allowed and ranking in the top four against the pass and run this season. Meanwhile, Baltimore has struggled in the red zone this season, ranking 17th after scoring a touchdown in just 51 percent of its trips in the red zone. The Ravens were able to connect on a few long completions against the Houston secondary, including 50-plus-yard receptions to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, but the Texans defense has a way of bending but not breaking. Fortunately for Baltimore, Cundiff appears to be over his left calf injury. The 2010 Pro Bowl kicker has struggled this season, but not away from M&T Bank Stadium. Of Cundiff’s nine misses in 37 tries this season, all came on the road and five were from 50 or more yards. Even if the Ravens’ drives stall in the red zone, they should feel very confident with a healthy Cundiff coming on the field to get three points. The Ravens were held to under 20 points at home only once all year (against San Francisco in Week 12), and they will score enough points in this one to get the job done. When scoring 20 or more points this season, the Ravens are a perfect 11-0.
4. Joe Flacco will back up his latest comments about his detractors by throwing for over 200 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. The timing of his latest critique of the media was odd and puts an even hotter spotlight on the fourth-year quarterback to perform, but Flacco appears ready to take advantage of his first home playoff game against a team playing its first-ever road game in the postseason. With Boldin sidelined for the final two games of the regular season, the passing attack struggled, but Flacco remained efficient in taking what the defense gave him by committing only one turnover while tossing three touchdown passes. Despite turning it over twice against the Texans in October, Flacco was able to throw for over 300 yards, which came in handy as the Ravens struggled to run the ball in the first half. The Houston linebackers will be keying on stopping Rice, which should create room for tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in the passing game. This will lead to the safeties creeping closer to the line of scrimmage, allowing Flacco to take deep shots to Smith. It won’t be an offensive explosion, but the Ravens are going to make enough plays in the passing game to support a running attack that will improve as the game progresses.
5. It will not be a blowout, but the Ravens will be in control most of the afternoon in a 26-17 victory. All week, we’ve heard this is the ideal scenario for Baltimore in the divisional round of the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean the game will be a blowout. There are no sure things in the postseason and while routs certainly can occur, it’s nearly impossible to see them coming. These teams are similar in that they’re built on defense and a running game that controls the tempo, but the Ravens have far more capability in the passing game with Schaub no longer under center for the Texans. Houston deserves plenty of credit for being a good football team that’s weathered the storm of losing its standout quarterback to win a playoff game. However, the Ravens are playing at home and possess the overwhelmingly clear advantage at the quarterback position. Unless Baltimore turns it over multiple times to set up Yates on a short field, it’s very difficult envisioning a rookie quarterback beating the Ravens at home for the first time since Nov. 23, 1997 (Arizona’s Jake Plummer at Memorial Stadium). As long as every Baltimore drive results in a score or a punt — without an inordinate amount of the latter — the Ravens will be fine. If Baltimore struggles to knock off the rust early in the game following their bye week, it may be uncomfortable for awhile, but Baltimore is the more rested and experienced group and the one who will survive to advance to the AFC championship game.