Oakland Raiders (12-4 SU, 10-6 ATS) vs. Houston Texans (9-7 SU, 6-9-1 ATS)
AFC Wild Card Playoff Game
Date/Time: Saturday, January 7, 2017 at 4:35PM EST
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
by Scott, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: OAK +3.5/HOU -3.5
Over/Under Total: 36.5
On Saturday, the NFL Playoffs kick off when the Oakland Raiders come to NRG Stadium to take on the AFC South champion Houston Texans in a wild card showdown. It’s an interesting matchup between an Oakland team that met with great misfortune at the end of the season with the loss of QB Derek Carr. It throws a less-optimistic light on their postseason hopes. But Houston has QB issues of their own and was largely unimpressive at points this season, despite winning the AFC South. After going to Tom Savage with Brock Osweiler stinking it up, Savage suffered a concussion on Sunday and the Texans had to go back to Osweiler, who was again unimpressive. Which team can shake off their woes in time for this playoff matchup?
A lot has changed since these teams met on November 11, when the Raiders beat Houston at home by a 27-20 score. With Carr out of action, using that game as a source of insight could have its drawbacks. Oakland depended on a lot of short passes for the bulk of their offense. Again, with Carr out, we’ll see if either backup Matt McGloin or rookie Connor Cook can replicate that. The Texans got a nice performance from RB Lamar Miller in that game. But the Raiders got a good game from the offensive line and got the job done, with some key defensive plays along the way.
The Raiders looked pretty awful in their first full game without Carr, losing to a Denver team that was out of contention in a 24-6 beating. They’ve scored two field goals in five quarters without Carr. A lot was on the line and the Raiders could have sewn up a first-round bye and won their division, but came up empty. Maybe they can do better this week. This season, they certainly depended on the Carr-led aerial attack. By the same token, other aspects of the Raiders game surfaced this season, namely a strong run-game, a top-flight offensive line, and a defense that can really make a difference. But make no mistake; the loss to Denver was a condemning first peek of the Raiders without Carr behind center. Now is the time for them to start depending on some of the character they built on this season, first by reversing a long recent history of losing seasons and by winning a slew of close games by playing their best when it’s all on the line.
The Oakland offense will be asked to be better. Granted, the Houston offense isn’t a terrifying one by any means. But this season, the Oakland defense was clutch and benefitted greatly from a good and balanced offense—one that thrived late in games. This group won’t be able to rely as much on the offense. They aren’t terribly robust against the run, something the Texans could exploit. This is where the playmaking element of this defense needs to surface in a big way. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin need to get after the quarterback, as they both did in the first game between these teams. Mack has made game-changing plays this season and they could really use that now, in addition to some help from a leaky, but playmaking secondary. This looks like a tough spot for the Oakland offense, meaning the “D” will need to really be big on Saturday.
With a negative point-differential of 49 points, Houston is an unlikely division champion. They’ve won a lot of close games, while getting embarrassed in some of their losses. They’ve beaten a lot of bad teams, while struggling against their better opponents. Still, they are now back-to-back division champions, able to get to the postseason despite a lot of issues at quarterback and key losses on both sides of the ball. They are 7-1 at home, having played a lot better in their stomping grounds this season. An easy team to neglect, bettors need to broaden their perspective of the game when evaluating Houston, a team that continues to thrive while failing to excite across the lines we’re accustomed.
Key to the Texans’ success is the league’s top-ranked defense, a group that got better over the course of the season. It has kept them in games and is a big part of why they’re here—hosting a playoff game despite never really being impressive in the regular season. Even with JJ Watt out for most of the season, they got some good pass-rush with Whitney Mercillus, Benardrick McKinney, and Jadeveon Clowney, who is listed as questionable for this game. They’ve been better at home, allowing an average of just 17 points a game. The secondary has been a big part of that, one of the best units in the league, led by Kareem Jackson, Quintin Demps, Andre Hal, AJ Bouye, and Corey Moore. They’ll be asked to hold down the fort at home against an Oakland bunch that lost a lot of its force with the loss of Carr.
Houston’s offense has been a ragged group for a lot of the season. On their behalf, the quarterback issues are something they’ve dealt with all season, while it’s more of a new feeling for Oakland. All season, shabby QB play has handcuffed this offense. Lamar Miller was over 1000 in his first season in Houston, with Alfred Blue adding over 400 yards on the ground. But aerially, they were near the bottom of the league. DeAndre Hopkins was off his best form, while they got good play at times from rookie Will Fuller and a pair of nice ball-catching tight ends in Ryan Griffin and CJ Fiedorowicz. Still, averaging just 17 points per game and maxing out at 27 this season is a big reason not many are fancying Houston’s chances in the big picture this season.
On one hand, Oakland soared to heights that Houston was not able to reach this season. But Houston is closer to who they are and who they’ve been all season. And they’re at home, where they’ve been appreciably better. Oakland hasn’t shown they can thrive in the midst of tumult at the quarterback position. But I see some other aspects of the Oakland machine stepping up this week, keeping the game close, and registering the cover on the road with a reasonable shot at a win.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Oakland Raiders plus 3.5 points.
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