By Jay Betsill
Baltimore Ravens vs. Houston Texans
Sunday – December 21 – 12:00 pm
NRG Stadium – Houston
The Houston Texans (7-7) host the Baltimore Ravens (9-5) in a battle of two teams that are still alive in the AFC playoff race. The Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win against the Texans and losses by the Steelers and Bengals, a win and a loss or tie by the Chiefs and Chargers or a tie with the Texans and losses by the Chiefs, Bills and Chargers. The Texans may still be mathematically alive for the playoffs, but they will need to win out and get a slew of help from multiple other teams if they are going to sniff the postseason.
The Texans will run out what is essentially their junior-varsity quarterback with Case Keenum getting the start after being signed earlier this week. Keenum, who was released after the Texans acquired Ryan Mallett from the Patriots, spent the season on the Rams practice squad until the Texans came calling after losing their top two quarterbacks due to injury — Mallet to a torn pectoral muscle and Ryan Fitzpatrick to a broken leg in last week’s loss to the Colts. After filling in for Fitzpatrick last week, rookie Tom Savage is also out this week due to a knee injury. Recently signed Thad Lewis will be Keenum’s back up.
The Ravens will be coming to Houston with somewhat of a homecoming feel with former Texans tight ends Owen Daniels and Phillip Supernaw, wide receiver Jacoby Jones and running back Justin Forsett all on Baltimore’s roster. The biggest buzz of the former Texans returning to NRG Stadium will be for former Texans head coach and current Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. After losing running back Ray Rice, Kubiak still managed to turn around the miniscule rushing attack that ranked at the bottom of the NFL into a top-5 ground game and has the Ravens offense on pace to finish in the top-10 for the first time since 1997.
“He was my first and only NFL coach for five years, so he was all I knew about the NFL,” Texans running back Arian Foster told ESPN.com. “I felt like he treated us very fairly. He was always up front with us, and I feel like he was a great offensive mind. I always felt like that. I excelled under his regime and under his offense.”
While Foster, who had 26 carries for 99 yards a week ago, will certainly be expected to carry the load on offense, the Texans defense will be expected to contain Kubiak’s unit. J.J. Watt and company held the Colts in check last week, allowing Andrew Luck only 187 yards through the air and the Colts to 110 yards on the ground. With the uncertainty at quarterback, the Texans defense will need an equally impressive showing to keep things close.
Of note, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, who was inactive last week after a concussion, has completed the league’s concussion protocol and has been cleared to return this week. It was also announced that Johnson is the Texans representative for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes players’ contributions to their communities.
The Ravens pass rush led by linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs will be too much for Keenum and Kubiak and Daniels will have a sweet homecoming with Baltimore winning 20-7.