The stakes are Texas-big for Sunday's showdown in Houston.
The Ravens (9-5) are chasing a playoff spot and potentially a division title, and the Texans (7-7) can't afford to drop a game if they want to play postseason football.
Both teams expect a playoff atmosphere for the matchup at NRG Stadium.
"You want to win down the stretch and give yourself a chance to do something special," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "They see it that way. We see it that way, so the atmosphere is going to be electric and it's going to be a fun game."
Both teams are coming into the game beat up at the end of the year. The Ravens have 17 players on injured reserve and the Texans are down to their fourth-string quarterback.
But the show goes on, and the game could be make-or-break for both teams.
"We just have to deal with it," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "And we just need to go play."
Three Matchups To Watch
RT Rick Wagner vs. DE J.J. Watt
The old Wisconsin teammates will square off in perhaps the biggest showdown of the game. Watt is having a record year for a defensive player, and he has even put himself in the conversation to be the league's MVP. Wagner has played stellar all season in his first year as a starter, but he's yet to face a player like Watt. The Ravens will likely try a variety of combinations to keep Watt out of the backfield where he can make game-changing plays, and Wagner could likely get some help from Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda.
CB Lardarius Webb vs. WR Andre Johnson
The veteran receiver hasn't put up his usual numbers this year – 69 catches for 737 yards and two touchdowns – but he still has the potential to come up with a big day. After missing a game because of a concussion, Johnson will certainly look to help Houston make a final push to the postseason. Johnson and fellow receiver DeAndre Hopkins have a distinct size advantage over Webb, but the Ravens need a strong outing from their top corner to prevent the big plays.
OC Gary Kubiak vs. DC Romeo Crennel**
Perhaps the most emotional storyline of the game will be Kubiak's return to the place where he was the head coach for eight seasons. Kubiak helped build the Texans into a playoff team before he was fired last year, and Sunday's matchup will be his first game back in NRG Stadium. Tight end Owen Daniels, another former Texan, said that winning Sunday would mean "everything" for Kubiak. The offensive play caller may have a few tricks up his sleeve against his old team.
Three Keys to the Game
Stop The Run
This really should be all three keys to the game. The Texans offense will run through their star running back Arian Foster, who is sixth in the NFL in rushing yards. With a fourth-string quarterback under center, the Texans need a big day from Foster to take away some of the pressure on his signal caller. The Ravens defense has passed its first two tests without All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but the challenge gets tougher this week. If the Ravens can stop the run and make Houston throw the ball, then that should mean good things for Baltimore.
Get After The Quarterback
If the Ravens can force Houston to throw the ball, then that means the pass rushers get to do what they do best. The Texans will have an inexperienced quarterback with either Case Keenum or Thad Lewis, and the Ravens want to force either into bad situations. Baltimore had eight sacks last week against Jacksonville, and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil leads the league with 17 on the season. If the Texans have to throw the ball to have success, then the pass rushers could be in store for a big day.
Starting fast is always a priority, and it could mean even more this week. With the Texans likely relying on their running game, a fast start by the offense could force Houston to try to score quickly and get away from the running game. Shutting down Foster is one way to keep the Texans from running the ball, and the other way to is put up points on offense to force them to throw the football.