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Late for Work: Predictions for Ravens-Texans Playoff Game

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

Ravens Are Near Unanimous Pick to Defeat Texans

Led by quarterback C.J. Stroud, the Houston Texans stunned the NFL world last week by bouncing the Cleveland Browns and Joe Flacco out of the playoffs by a 45-14 score.

Stroud, the likely Offensive Rookie of the Year, has been on a roll and first-year Head Coach DeMeco Ryans has instilled a winning culture in Houston, but the overwhelming consensus is that the upstart Texans' run will be ended by the Ravens in tomorrow's divisional round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium.

All but two of the 53 pundits we looked at predicted a victory for the top-seeded Ravens, who are coming off a bye. NFL Network's Nick Shook and CBS Sports' John Breech were the dissenters.

While the pundits were nearly unanimous in picking the Ravens, only nine of the 32 who predicted the final score believe Baltimore will cover the 9.5-point spread.

Here's what pundits are saying about the game:

The Ravens will win convincingly.

**The Baltimore Sun’s C.J,. Doon:** "Simply put, this Ravens team is better and more mature than the 2019 version that went one-and-done. They did not have veterans like Roquan Smith, Jadeveon Clowney, Kyle Van Noy and Odell Beckham Jr. when they lost to the Titans, and Lamar Jackson was not the leader he is today. The Texans will enter with plenty of confidence and young stars ready to grab the spotlight from the NFL's best team, but the Ravens have answered every challenge with authority over the past few months behind a dominant defense and the league's Most Valuable Player. Expect more of the same with their season and reputation on the line."

The Ravens will win but the Texans will make it a game.

**The Ringer’s Sheil Kapadia:** "A Ravens blowout would not surprise me. They have answered the call time and again this season against stiff competition and look like the best team in the NFL. They can win with offense, defense, or special teams, and they're well-coached. But I can't count Stroud out. He's shown an ability to make high degree-of-difficulty throws against high-caliber opponents and seems to be at his best when the lights are brightest. … I think we get a competitive game here."

**Baltimore Positive’s Luke Jones:** "Houston has enough talent to make this game uncomfortable, but a poor ground game and below-average pass defense make it difficult to envision Ryans' team playing the complete 60 minutes required to pull off the upset without Baltimore making uncharacteristic mistakes. Now 27 years old and on the cusp of winning his second MVP award in five seasons, Jackson is healthy and eager to change the story about his postseason shortcomings after a three-year wait. He and the Ravens will be up to the task."

The Texans will pull off the upset.

**CBS Sports’ John Breech:** "The Texans played 10 games this season against teams that finished the year with a winning record and they went 7-3. In those games, Stroud averaged over 300 yards passing while also throwing 21 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions. Stroud has essentially been at his best against good teams. Yes, one of those three losses did come to the Ravens, but that was back in Week 1 in a game where Stroud was making the first start of his career. Although the final score ended up being 25-9, it's worth noting that the score was only 7-6 with 10 minutes left to play in the third quarter. The Texans have never made it to a conference title game, they've never won a road playoff game and I never pick their games correctly, so this seems like a good time for all three of those streaks to end."

Jackson can thrive against the Texans' coverage schemes.

**Pro Football Focus’ Gordon McGuinness:** "The Houston Texans defense has lined up in either Cover 3 or Cover 4 — including any variations of the two — on 53.4% of their snaps this season, the fourth-highest rate in the league. Jackson has earned a 73.6 passing grade against Cover 3 and a league-best 92.8 passing grade against Cover 4."

The Athletic's Vic Tafur: "Jackson has a very good receiving corps this season and he will be able to exploit the Texans secondary. Like the Browns did in the first matchup with Houston before Amari Cooper was hurt and Joe Flacco started forcing everything last week. The Texans allowed 60 completions of 20-plus yards during the regular season (seventh worst), including three in their season-opening loss to the Ravens."

The Ravens' play-action game could give the Texans defense fits.

**ESPN’s Stats & Information:** "The Ravens used play-action at the seventh-highest rate in the regular season (26%), and Jackson thrived with it, ranking in the top seven in the league in QBR, completion percentage and yards per attempt. However, the Texans were among the worst defenses defending play-action this season — they ranked in the bottom five in QBR, completion percentage and yards per attempt."

Stroud will meet his match in the Ravens defense.

**’s Dan Parr:** "The Ravens' defense ranked first in completion percentage, pass yards per attempt, pass TD-to-INT ratio and passer rating allowed on deep passes during the regular season, per Next Gen Stats. But that's only slightly better than the Browns' marks in those categories, and Stroud just obliterated them. The bigger difference is Houston will be on the road on Saturday and its defense will be lining up across from the likely league MVP instead of on-his-last-legs Joe Flacco."

**USA Today’s Safid Deen:** "C.J. Stroud shredded one of the best (but battered) defenses in the NFL in his playoff debut last week against the Browns. But facing the Ravens will be a different monster for the rookie and upstart Texans."

WR Zay Flowers is the player the Texans need to contain to have a chance.

ESPN's Matt Bowen: "Tight end Isaiah Likely was an option here, but I'm going with receiver Zay Flowers due to his versatility in Todd Monken's offense. The Ravens can set Flowers up on motion/movement touches (screens, jet sweeps), create open voids for him to attack the boundary against Cover 2 and get him catch-and-run opportunities underneath to beat second-level zone defenders. In Baltimore's opening game of the season, Flowers caught 9 of 10 targets for 78 yards — including four catches of at least 17 yards — against the Texans. Houston has to slow him down this time around."

Ravens RT Morgan Moses vs. Texans edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. is a key matchup

**PFF’s Marcus Mosher:** "Moses hasn't been 100 percent healthy all season as he's dealt with a shoulder injury. He's missed more snaps this year than ever before, but he is still one of the top right tackles in the league. Now that he's had multiple weeks to rest up for the playoffs, Moses should be healthier than ever for this matchup. The Ravens will need him to have a big game because he's expected to see a ton of rookie sensation Will Anderson Jr,, who led the Texans in pressures (six) in the wild-card round. Anderson has recorded 26 pressures in his last five games despite playing on a high-ankle sprain. Keep an eye on the Moses-Anderson matchup, as it should be a good one on Saturday."

Neither quarterback has much experience in ice-cold conditions. Temperatures at kickoff are expected to be in the mid- to high 20s and drop over the next few hours. Forecasts are also calling for wind gusts over 20 mph.

The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer: "Jackson has started just one game in which the temperature at kickoff was 32 degrees or lower, according to TruMedia, and that came as a rookie. In a 27-24 overtime road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Jackson went 13-for-24 for 147 yards and two touchdowns and added 14 carries for 67 yards. Stroud played in occasionally grim weather conditions over his two years as a starter at Ohio State, but he has been largely protected from the cold this year. The roof of Houston's NRG Stadium is rarely open, and Stroud missed the one outdoor game the Texans played in the regular season when the temperature was under 50 degrees at kickoff."

Bold prediction: Stroud will throw for over 300 yards, becoming the first quarterback to achieve that feat against the Ravens since Tom Brady threw for 325 yards on Oct. 27, 2022.

**ESPN’s DJ Bien-Aime:** "Stroud led the league in passing yards per game this season (273) and could have thrown for well over 300 in the wild-card game against the Browns' No. 1-ranked defense when he threw for 236 in the first half."

Table inside Article
Source Prediction Commentary
ESPN 8 of 8 panelists pick Ravens
Baltimore Sun 4 of 4 panelists pick Ravens “The Ravens will enter as heavy favorites and deservedly so given their dominant finish to the regular season. The Texans established themselves as a dangerous team against the Browns. C.J. Stroud is a poised, deadly passer, and Houston has young defensive stars to complement him. But Lamar Jackson will come out firing against a vulnerable pass defense, and the Ravens will come up with enough different looks to keep Stroud less comfortable than he was against Cleveland. They will begin their Super Bowl push with a convincing victory.” —Childs Walker
USA Today 8 of 8 panelists pick Ravens 5 of 5 panelists pick Ravens “Maybe C.J. Stroud is on the type of heater that makes some of the conventional wisdom/metrics obsolete. I'm one more Texans win away from feeling confident we've reached that place, and maybe I'll be late to the party. For now, though, I'll say the phenom will meet his match in Baltimore. The Ravens' defense ranked first in completion percentage, pass yards per attempt, pass TD-to-INT ratio and passer rating allowed on deep passes during the regular season, per Next Gen Stats. But that's only slightly better than the Browns' marks in those categories, and Stroud just obliterated them. The bigger difference is Houston will be on the road on Saturday and its defense will be lining up across from the likely league MVP instead of on-his-last-legs Joe Flacco. After three weeks of rest, Lamar Jackson outduels his young counterpart and slays the Divisional Round demons that have haunted him for years.” — Dan Parr
NFL Network 9 of 10 panelists pick Ravens
Sporting News Ravens 27, Texans 20 “C.J. Stroud and the Texans are benefiting from a well-schemed 49ers-mirroring offense with lesser weapons. A similar thing is happening for DeMeco Ryans as the rookie leader of the defense with another high-drafted rookie, Will Anderson Jr. leading the way. Much like the Packers, the Texans won't get the big interceptions to spark them for a second straight week. But Stroud can hang in there with help from the run to keep Houston in it much better than in his NFL debut in Baltimore in Week 1. Lamar Jackson, however, makes the big difference by being sharp passing all over the field and finding holes in the Texans zone. He also can elude pressure with bursts downfield to boost a limited traditional running game. In the end, Stroud will face plenty of the Ravens' pass rush, led by former Texan Jadeveon Clowney, to close the door late.” — Vinnie Iyer
CBS Sports 7 of 8 panelists pick Ravens “The Texans are coming off an impressive home victory over the Browns, while the Ravens are coming off a bye. The rest could be good for the Ravens, but the starters haven't played in three weeks. That might matter. This will be the first road playoff game for Texans rookie passer C.J. Stroud, which can be a challenge. It can be even tougher against the Ravens stout defense. They will throw a bunch of different looks at Stroud. How he handles those will be key. Lamar Jackson will be the league MVP, but he has to go out and show he can do it in a playoff game. The pressure is on. But I think in this offense he will respond. Look for a lot of points as both quarterbacks play well, but the Ravens will win a close one behind Jackson.” — Pete Prisco
Pro Football Talk 2 of 2 panelists pick Ravens “I’m going to be shocked if the Ravens get caught sleeping here. Now do I think that means they’re necessarily going to come out and be hitting on all cylinders? No. I still think there will be a little bit of a rust factor … but I think clearly the Ravens are the better football team .” — Chris Simms
Sports Illustrated 7 of 7 panelists pick Ravens

Jackson Is a 'Savant' in the Way He Processes the Game

Jackson is perhaps the NFL's most dynamic playmaker, but he has thrived this season because of his mind as much as his arm and legs.

"It is nearly impossible to watch Jackson play and see past the physical miracles he performs, to look beyond a body that radiates fluidity and force," The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore wrote. "But that is where the heart and the durability of his excellence lie. The level of virtuosity Jackson reached this season flowed from how he wields his mind."

First-year Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken gave Jackson the keys to the offense and the quarterback has unlocked his full potential.

"This year, Jackson can change multiple aspects of a play on any snap," Kilgore wrote. "If he diagnoses a pressure his blockers cannot account for, he can alter how the offensive line protects him. If that change will not buy him enough time, he can change the routes his receivers run. Several times this season, Jackson has switched one running play to another, sensing a gap in the defense, and conjured a long gain."

Quarterbacks Coach Tee Martin told Kilgore that he has never seen a quarterback like Jackson.

"A lot of football lifers say that; Jackson's laser-beam passes and lightning-strike scrambles defy comparison," Kilgore wrote. "But Martin was not talking about the way Jackson plays the game. He meant the way Jackson sees it."

Martin said: "He's a savant. That's the only way I can say it. If you're a teacher at a high school or college and you realize you have this genius student and they're just a little different than everyone, cultivate an atmosphere for him. Don't try to bring that person down to everyone else's level. Make everyone go up to his level. And Lamar is like that kind of student. He is different.

"He's not just out there being an athlete. He really and truly sees and calculates what he's doing, which is very unique with the speed at which he plays. There are dropback quarterbacks that can do that, but they're in one place and not moving real fast. How fast he plays and how quickly he calculates, to me, adds to how unique and how special he really and truly is. You can't simulate it. That's what defenses recognize when they play him. You try to do it at practice, then you actually play him on the field, and it happens so much faster for a defense. That's what's special for him. I'm not talking about legs or anything. I'm talking about processing."

Ray Lewis on Jackson: 'He Has a Different Look in His Eye'

Jackson's obsession with leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory is well-documented. He's talked about literally since his first day with the organization.

Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, the only player on both of the Ravens' Super Bowl-winning teams, told ESPN’s Jamison Hensley that he believes Jackson has what it takes to bring the franchise a third Lombardi Trophy.

"I'm putting all my chips on 8," Lewis said. "I'm watching his maturity, I'm watching his patience in the pocket. But I'll also tell you: 8 has a different look in his eye."

Lewis noted that Jackson's lack of postseason success to this point has no bearing on the present.

"Oh, Lamar can't win in the playoffs. Oh, Lamar only got one playoff win. OK, great," Lewis said. "But maybe we didn't have a good enough team to go ahead and do that. That's why I think as his big brother, I'm throwing him the advice, 'Bro, we must win. Not Lamar must win.'"

Justin Madubuike Thankful Ravens Believed in Him

The Athletic's Dan Pompei wrote an in-depth feature on Pro Bowl and All-Pro second team defensive tackle Justin Madubuike.

Pompei noted that Madubuike was considered by some scouts to be a first-round talent coming out of Texas A&M in 2020, but some teams downgraded him because of "character" concerns. The Texans took him off the board entirely.

"The Ravens drew their conclusions from their own experiences with him," Pompei wrote. "In predraft interviews, they connected with him and recognized a geniality. Southwest area scout Kevin Weidl tried to view Madubuike without prejudice and believed strongly he was a special talent who would thrive in the right environment.

"Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta phoned Madubuike during the third round of the 2020 draft with word that he would be a Raven. The conversation was mostly one-sided. Madubuike really couldn't say much. When the selection was announced on television, he put his head on his mother Maureen's shoulder, embraced her and sobbed. The emotion had been building for a while. And Madubuike was intent on rewarding people who believed in him."

Madubuike, who has improved every year before breaking out this season with a team-high 13 sacks, said the Ravens were the perfect team for him.

"I knew the right team was going to pick me up and believe in me," Madubuike told Pompei. "That's what the Ravens did. And since then, I've developed as a person, player and professional on the Ravens team. I'm around a lot of people who care for me and believe in me. I'm thankful to them."

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