We know who the Texans' division foes are because we see them every year. Twice every year, in fact. Tennessee, Indianapolis, Jacksonville — that's the AFC South.There was a time not all that long ago, though, where the Baltimore Ravens felt sort of like a division foe. Because of the way the schedule in the NFL unfolded year over year, the Texans actually found themselves playing the Ravens every season from 2010 through 2014. Hell, in 2011, they played the Ravens twice, if you count the postseason.
In this games, the Texans were okay at home, with a couple of blowout wins in 2012 and 2014, preceded by a soul crushing overtime loss in 2010 (on what else — a Matt Schaub pick six). On the road, though, it was a different story. The Texans were winless in that time when traveling to Baltimore. In fact, the Texans have never won in Baltimore in the team's history.
So as the Texans try to hang onto the slimmest of playoff hopes, traveling to Baltimore to play a Monday night game is not exactly optimal, but this is the hand that Bill O'Brien's squad has been dealt. So let's examine a few reasons to watch Monday night's game, aside from the fact that the Texans have like a 0.0001271 percent chance of making the postseason (that number is my own estimate, by the way):
4. Another Hopkins main event matchup
Last week, Hopkins was in a clash of the titans with Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, and more than held his own, grabbing four passes for 76 yards, and a touchdown in one on one coverage with Peterson. If you want to relive that effort through the eyes of Hopkins, well, here you go....
Now, Hopkins goes up against the Ravens' Jimmy Smith, who may not have the reputation of Peterson, but he's pretty close, and he might be having a better season. According to Pro Football Focus, when Smith has been targeted this season, he’s allowed a passer rating of 25.7. If he can keep that up, it would be the best rating for a cornerback in a season over the last 12 years. That's pretty good. Like last week, the Texans will need Hopkins to win his one on one battle against a fellow Pro Bowler, if they are going to pull off the upset tonight.
3. Miller feeding
If it feels like the Texans suffer some sort of catastrophic player loss each week, it's because they pretty much do. Last week's was rookie running back D'Onta Foreman, who (in the most Texans metaphoric play ever) shredded his Achilles tendon on the team's longest touchdown run of the season. So now the backup running back reps will be going to Alfred Blue (who half the Texan fans probably forgot was even on the team) and newly signed Andre Ellington (cousin of wide receiver Bruce Ellington), which to me is just another way of saying "Hey, Lamar Miller... remember last season when you were carrying the ball like 30 times a game early in the year? Well yeah, get ready for more of that." Miller has looked crisper than usual running the ball the last few games, in part because his workload had been properly adjusted with Foreman as his sidekick. Hopefully, the legs stay fresh Monday night.
2. Special teams
Remember last week when the Texans actually had an edge in the area of special teams against the Arizona Cardinals? Yeah, well hopefully you enjoyed that, because according to Football Outsiders DVOA stats, the Ravens have the best special teams in the NFL, and the Texans have had to make monumental improvements just to be slightly below average on special teams this season. When he's been healthy, Ravens WR Michael Campanaro (Baltimore native and high school teammate of Texans CB Kevin Johnson) has been a weapon returning punts, and if the game comes down to a kick, the Ravens have a huge advantage there with Justin Tucker, who is the best in the business.
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1. Bad Savage
Let's be real, though — for the Texans to pull off the upset here, the version of Tom Savage that showed up last Sunday against Arizona is the BARE MINIMUM of what they will need out of the quarterback position. It's not that Savage is going up against a world beater in Joe Flacco. Truth is that Flacco is currently in the midst of setting a record for the number of dollars a franchise overpays a guy for winning one Super Bowl. However, if we know we can count on one thing from Savage, it's that we know he's good for a turnover or two. (By the way, NOT something for which you want to be counted on, just saying.) So even going against an opposing quarterback who's been a solid C- all season, Savage will probably need an overall box score, outside the turnovers, where he puts up at least 17 points, probably more. It doesn't sound fun, I know, Texan Fan, but there's a reason the Texans are an eight point underdog.... it's because THIS GUY is relegated to making snappy Twitter videos while rehabbing his knee....
SPREAD: Ravens -8
PREDICTION: Ravens 16, Texans 13
RECORD: 7-3 SU, 5-5 ATS
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.