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NFL Free Pick: Houston Texans Renew Hostilities With Baltimore Ravens

by Aengus Moorehead

NFL Free Pick: Houston Texans Renew Hostilities With Baltimore Ravens

For the Houston Texans to flourish in the playoffs they will have to beat the Baltimore at their own game when they visit the Ravens for an AFC divisional round matchup on Sunday afternoon. Houston already had one crack at the Ravens earlier this season, dropping a 29-14 decision at Baltimore on Oct. 16. Of course, that was a typical outcome this season for the Ravens, who posted the first perfect 8-0 record at home in team history. Baltimore has won all five meetings with Houston as it seeks its first home playoff win since the 2000 Super Bowl-winning season.

After capturing the AFC South title with a 10-6 regular season, Houston made its inaugural playoff appearance last Saturday against visiting Cincinnati and used an outstanding defensive effort coupled with a solid running from Arian Foster to notch the victory.

Foster scored twice on the ground to help take the pressure off of rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, while first-year defensive end J.J. Watt turned the momentum of the game when he ripped a pass by Cincinnati's Andy Dalton out of the air and took it back 29 yards for a score with 52 seconds left in the second quarter to put Houston up for good.

Houston's defense then shut out Cincinnati in the second half in front of a Reliant Stadium-record crowd of 71,725 to get the Texans back on track after ending the regular season with three losses in a row.

While Baltimore's defense racked up four sacks in the first meeting, the offense also accounted for 402 yards. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 305 yards, hitting Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith for passes over 50 yards, and running back Ray Rice rush for 101 yards.

Matt Schaub was the Texans' quarterback for that matchup, but it is now Yates after season-ending injuries to Schaub and backup Matt Leinart. That transition hasn't altered Houston's game plan much, according to Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.

The Ravens' earlier win over the Texans was part of the club's first-ever undefeated regular season at home. Baltimore averaged 27.4 points per game while yielding only 14.9 in its eight home tilts, and the Ravens also won six of their final seven contests this season, locking up the division and the AFC's second seed with a victory at Cincinnati on Jan. 1.

The only team in the NFL to have made the postseason in each of the past four years, the Ravens went 6-0 against playoff teams this season and have won their last 10 home games. They are looking to advance to the AFC Championship for the third time in team history and for the first time since 2008.

As previously noted, the Ravens' victory over the visiting Texans in Week 6 gave Baltimore a 5-0 advantage in the all-time series between the teams. Two of those wins have taken place at M&T Bank Stadium, with the Ravens edging Houston by a 16-15 count in the Charm City in 2005 in addition to this past October's result. The Texans did take Baltimore to overtime when the clubs faced off in Houston last season, scoring 21 straight second-half points before the Ravens ultimately regrouped to record a hard-earned 34-28 decision.

Harbaugh is 2-0 lifetime against the Texans as a head coach and owns a 4-3 career mark in the playoffs, while Gary Kubiak won his postseason debut as a sideline boss with last week's verdict but is 0-3 in his prior encounters with both the Ravens and Harbaugh.

Time & Venue:
- 1:00 PM ET, Sunday, January 15, 2012. M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland

Last Week's results:
- Houston Texans (-3) beats visiting Cincinnati Bengals 31-10.
- Baltimore Ravens (-1.5) beats host Cincinnati Bengals 24-16 in week 17.

Last week's ATS:
- Favourite Houston Texans (11-6) wins and covers
- Favourite Baltimore Ravens (12-4) wins and covers

NFL Football Odds: Ravens -9, O/U 37

Team records:
- Houston Texans: 10-6 SU, 11-5 ATS
- Baltimore Ravens: 12-4 SU, 8-7-1 ATS

Houston won its first playoff game in franchise history last week, getting 153 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Foster in a 31-10 victory over Cincinnati. Star WR Andre Johnson, who missed the first meeting versus the Ravens and sat out nine games this season, had five receptions for 90 yards, including a 40-yard scoring pass. Yates, who was the third-string QB in October, completed 11 of 20 for 159 yards and one TD. Houston had four sacks and an interception return for a touchdown vs Cincinnati. Foster was limited to 49 yards on 15 carries by the Ravens in Week 6, but he had 100 yards against them last season.

Joe Flacco is often criticized for holding back Baltimore’s offense, but he’s the only QB in the Super Bowl era to start a playoff game in each of his first four seasons. Flacco is 27-5 at home and will get a boost with the return of Boldin, who missed the last two games with a knee injury. Boldin had eight receptions for 132 yards in the last meeting against the Texans. Still, the offense revolves around Rice, who rushed for 1,364 yards and 12 TDs and led the league with 2,068 yards from scrimmage.Baltimore led the AFC with 48 sacks.

Danieal Manning and Sherrick McManis share kick return duties for the Texans, though neither got a chance to bring one back versus the Bengals thanks to three touchbacks. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones, meanwhile, handles the punts and did have one touchdown among his 49 regular-season returns.

Kicker Neil Rackers got just one field goal chance last weekend and made good from 39 yards out, and missed only one try from inside 40 yards during the regular season. Veteran punter Matt Turk (42.7 avg.) was called back into duty when the Texans lost youngster Brett Hartmann to a torn ACL last month, and the 43-year-old came through with a 50.2 average on five punts versus the Bengals.

Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff logged a career-high 122 points this season despite missing a game due to a calf injury. He did miss five of his six tries from 50 yards or longer, however. Punter Sam Koch averaged a career-best 46.5 yards per punt and stuck 21-of-73 kicks inside the 20-yard line, while Ladarius Webb averaged 10 yards per punt return and took one to the end zone earlier this season. He will now team with Tom Zbikowski to return kicks following a knee injury to primary returner David Reed in Week 16.

The Ravens and Texans were the only teams to rank among the top five in total defense, rushing defense and passing defense.

Houston was the first team to win its franchise playoff debut since Baltimore in 2000.

The Ravens have won their playoff opener in each of the last three seasons. Each game was on the road.

Baltimore is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games at home
Baltimore is 1-3-1 ATS in its last 5 games at home
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Baltimore's last 6 games at home
Baltimore is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games when playing Houston
Houston is 1-4 ATS in its last 5 games when playing Baltimore
Houston is 8-3 SU in its last 11 games
Houston is 4-1 SU in its last 5 games on the road

Despite their opposite reputations as an offensive threat (Houston) and defensive powerhouse (Baltimore), the Texans and Ravens are pretty similar teams when the numbers are compared. Both ranked middle-of-the-road on offense and rely strongly on their running backs, while the two clubs were stingy in allowing yards and points, ranking right next to one another in both categories.

The deciding factors in this game should be experience and home field. The Ravens excel playing in Baltimore and already own a home win over the Texans. On top of that, key members like Flacco, Rice and Reed are all playoff-tested, while Ray Lewis is a former Super Bowl MVP.

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NFL Football Pick: Take Ravens.

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andre johnson - andy dalton - anquan boldin - arian foster - baltimore ravens - billy cundiff - brett hartmann - cincinnati bengals - danieal manning - david reed

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