Stakes (and Nerves) Rising for Playoffs

January 13, 2012 | Dwayne Showalter

I like the Ravens chances Sunday against the Texans at M&T Bank Stadium.  It’s hard not to.  The Ravens beat Houston in October.  Joe Flacco threw for over 300 yards, Ray Rice rushed for over 100 and Anquan Boldin had over 100 receiving yards.  The Texans, while without Andre Johnson, played with Matt Schaub that day.  Vegas believes in the Ravens, installing them as a touchdown-plus favorite in the game.

Other factors in Baltimore’s favor include having Ben Grubbs starting at guard in this weekend’s game. He sat out the game in October. Obviously playing at home is a big advantage for the Ravens, having not lost here all season.  Just being outside in the wind and cold should be an advantage itself against a team that closed its roof last week on a perfect day in Houston.  The return of Anquan Boldin to the lineup should provide an offensive boost.  The bye week helped the Ravens rest and heel.  All that sounds great but this is the NFL and we all know anything can happen on game day.

The Texans arrive in town fresh off a solid beating of the Bengals which should give them some confidence.  They had their highest point total (31) since TJ Yates took over in late November.  But prior to last week’s game, the Texans had lost three straight to Carolina, Indianapolis and Tennessee, hardly a who’s who of the NFL.

We’ve all seen the bye week backfire on teams too.  The loss of momentum leading into the playoffs, the rust is there.  In fact, home teams are 12-12 since 2005 in the Divisional Round.  That’d include a Ravens 15-6 home loss to the Colts in January of ‘07 (to date, the toughest loss to swallow in team history).  It also includes a Ravens win in Tennessee in 2009.

Of course, there is always the fluke play factor (see Shannon Sharpe TD in 2001 Wild Card win over Denver).  In the NFL, more than any other sport, momentum can swing on every play, whether it’s by fantastic design or dumb luck.

So while we have plenty to be optimistic about as fans, we all need to be realists in knowing the Texans are a pretty good football team capable of beating any team, anywhere, anytime.  Local newscasts with folks spouting off about how it’s going to be a blowout just make me cringe.  Those are probably the same people screaming at the TV when the Ravens are down 7-3 in the first quarter.  Speaking of optimism, if Denver could strike again in New England Saturday night, both teams will be playing to host the AFC Title game!  How ‘bout that!!

In the end, it’ll probably be a long nail-biting day.  Remember in October, Houston led 14-13 late in the 3rd.  I expect it to be much like that first game.  Even though Schaub is out, he played pretty poorly in that one.   Hopefully, Yates will play worse and Ravens D can focus on the run.  The Ravens have an offense that’s solid though not spectacular.  If I had to go on record, I’d say the Ravens come out breathing fire and cover….27-10.