2012 Divisional Preview: Houston vs. Baltimore

This is the third of four posts this week examining the Divisional matchups in the NFL Playoffs. Check back soon for the final preview:

The final AFC Divisonal Matchup features the Houston Texans at the Baltimore Ravens at 1 ET on CBS Sunday. After thoroughly demolishing the Bengals last week 31-10, the Texans look to continue their play against Baltimore. The Ravens, on the other hand, spent last week resting up for this week’s matchup. The teams did not face each other this year so Baltimore has the advantage of an extra week of reviewing film, though it had to review film of the Bengals as well. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Offense: The Ravens are led by running back Ray Rice, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry this season on the way 1364 yards on the ground. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for more than 3000 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing just 12 interceptions on the year. The dual combo of Rice and Flacco gives Baltimore a potent, but not overpowering offense. The Ravens were 15th in the NFL in yards per game, but haven’t scored more than 24 points in a game since Week 11 against the Bengals as well.

For the Texans, it’s all about running back Arian Foster and last week was no exception. Foster ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over. Quarterback TJ Yates had a solid game as well, completing 11 of his 20 passes for 159 yards a touchdown. While running back Ben Tate wasn’t quite as productive as normal last week, the combination of him and Foster has been terrific all year and will pose a challenge to the Ravens’ excellent run defense.

Defense: Baltimore gave up just 1482 yards on the ground and only 3.5 yards per attempt. They forced 11 fumbles and picked off their opponents 15 times as well. On pass plays, the Baltimore D isn’t much worse, giving up the fourth-fewest yards in the air. The combination of the two gave the Ravens the third best defense in the NFL, but unfortunately, they are facing the second best defense in Houston. The Texans gave up just 10 points last week and harassed Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton relentlessly, sacking him four times and causing him to throw three interceptions. Flacco has more experience in the playoffs than Dalton, a rookie, did, but the Texans will certainly look to make him uncomfortable in the pocket.

Special Teams: Neil Rackers had little work last week as Houston attempted just one field goal and Rackers nailed it from 39 yards. On kick off and punt returns, the Bengals were helpless as the Texans tackled efficiently and effectively. The Texans’ special team will face a larger challenge against the Ravens strong kick off returning though its punt returning was below average this year. Baltimore’s biggest special teams concern entering Sunday will be its field goal kicking as the Ravens converted on just 30 of 39 attempts during the regular season.

Overall: While many matchups this weekend feature teams with different styles, this game has two teams with very similar styles. Both have strong running games and great defenses. Whoever wins the battles in the ditches, on the offensive and defensive lines, will win this game. With the extra week of rest and home field advantage, I think the Ravens will escape to the AFC Championship game:

Baltimore 21 Houston 17


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