It’s quite surreal, but here we are, stepping into the exhilarating phase of the NFL playoffs known as the divisional round. Kicking off a weekend filled with anticipation and excitement is the clash between the top-seeded AFC team, the Baltimore Ravens, and the resilient AFC South champions, the Houston Texans, holding the fourth seed.
Baltimore strategically clinched the coveted home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as early as Week 17. They strategically rested most of their key players in the regular-season finale, enjoying the luxury of a first-round bye and the opportunity to spectate the wild-card games from the comfort of their home turf. Meanwhile, the Texans, initially underestimated as home underdogs in their matchup against the Browns, swiftly dismantled Cleveland, seizing their first taste of playoff victory since 2019.
Now, destiny brings these two formidable teams face to face once again, echoing their season opener, with the grand prize of a ticket to the conference championship dangling in the balance. The question looming over us: which of these contenders will emerge victorious and secure a coveted spot in the AFC title game? The answer is poised to unfold in the imminent showdown.
How to watch
- Date: Saturday, Jan. 20 | Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
- Location: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)
- TV: ABC/ESPN | Stream on fubo (try for free)
- Odds: Ravens -9.5, O/U 43.5 ( via Sportsline consensus odds)
When the Texans have the ball
As we delve into the labyrinth of NFL playoffs, we reminisce about the Texans’ initial encounter with the Ravens in Week 1. Back then, the Texans, hardly resembling contenders for the conference championship, managed a mere nine points against Baltimore’s formidable defense. C.J. Stroud struggled with a modest 5.5 yards per attempt, Dameon Pierce and Devin Singletary combined for a meager 53 yards on 18 carries, and Tank Dell played a minor role in the offensive tableau. The only foreshadowing of future brilliance came from Nico Collins, turning 11 targets into 6 catches for 80 yards.
Fast forward, and the narrative transforms dramatically. Stroud orchestrates one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history, leading in passing yards per game and touchdown-to-interception ratio. Singletary seizes control of the backfield, Dell evolves into an explosive receiver, and Collins emerges as a true No. 1 receiver, accumulating 80 catches for 1,297 yards and 8 touchdowns in 15 games.
Under offensive maestro Bobby Slowik, Stroud thrives in an offense rich in play action and middle-of-the-field route concepts. Against between-the-numbers throws, Stroud exhibits prowess, going 190 of 251 for 2,369 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. This weekend, however, poses a formidable challenge as Stroud confronts the league’s top-ranked pass defense without Dell and Noah Brown.
The Ravens, adept at defending middle-of-the-field throws and play action, pose a stern test. Their defense, under Mike Macdonald, adapts week to week, deploying various coverages to keep Stroud on his toes. Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens, with good size, are well-positioned to handle Collins, especially with coverage help in the absence of Dell and Brown.
Slowik’s strategic scheming becomes paramount, requiring quick passes that thwart the Ravens’ pressure while maintaining downfield threat. The Ravens, known for their prowess in guarding every position, surprisingly rank 17th in EPA/dropback on passes out of 12 personnel.
Despite the Texans’ shift to a more pass-oriented approach against Cleveland, the Ravens, boasting a solid run defense, must contend with Singletary’s recent success. The Ravens aim to make the Texans one-dimensional, adding another layer of challenge for Stroud.
As the Texans navigate this intricate matchup, Stroud’s rookie season excellence faces its ultimate litmus test against the Ravens’ stalwart defense.