The Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders will face off in the first match of the 2016 post-season, although both sides have plenty of issues to address to ensure that they advance.
Jack Del Rio’s men saw their hopes of securing a first-round bye crushed when quarterback Derek Carr sustained a fractured fibula in their win over the Indianapolis Colts. Backup Matt McGloin then suffered an injury against the Denver Broncos, leaving third-stringer Connor Cook as the starter.
The Texans have endured similar issues at quarterback with Brock Osweiler struggling throughout the term. His replacement Tom Savage performed well, but sustained a concussion against the Tennessee Titans, which will see Osweiler get the nod to lead his side against the Raiders.
Oakland would have taken a spot in wildcard weekend at the start of the term, but given their form over the course of the season there may be a tinge of disappointment. Del Rio’s men seemed a lock to secure one of the top two seeds when riding high against the Colts, but Carr’s injury transformed the landscape of the AFC playoff race. Now the club have to battle on without their key man and may have to rely on a rookie to send them into the divisional round.
The Texans issues are all on themselves having chosen poorly in the off-season to sign Osweiler to a lucrative contract. The 27-year-old has been horrendous for the club this term, placing huge pressure on the defense to win their matches. Bill O’Brien’s men won the AFC South not due to their own brilliance, but down to the inadequacies of the other sides in the division. Houston’s defense have the talent to win the game, leaving Osweiler with the simple task of staying out their way.
O’Brien’s side have been handed a perfect opportunity to advance to the divisional round and they cannot afford not to take it. Osweiler only has to put up a small number of points and allow his defense to do the rest against Cook – who could be making his first start. As a result, backing the Texans at -200 with Bovada sportsbook is the option to take, although the Raiders are plucky and may have a chance at covering the +4 spread.
The Texans have reached the playoffs three times since the formation of the franchise in the 2002 season. However, they’ve only progressed as far as the divisional round before facing a superior side, ending their challenge prematurely.
Defeats to the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots stopped promising teams from making a surge to the Super Bowl. In 2012 the franchise saw their best hopes ended perhaps in the regular campaign when they adorned themselves in letterman jackets before a showdown with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Houston were in control of the number one seed before that meeting with an 11-2 record, but a hammering at the hands of Tom Brady and company sent their term on a downward spiral. They lost three out of their last four matches, and although they finished with the three seed and overcame the Cincinnati Bengals in the wildcard round, a beatdown at the hands of the Patriots ended their campaign in the divisional round.
After bottoming out under the tenure of Gary Kubiak, O’Brien has steadied the ship, but a quality quarterback has evaded him. Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer and now Osweiler have failed to provide a sufficient answer. For all their faults, O’Brien has guided the club into the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, but their last experience in 2015 ended on the first play when Knile Davis returned the ball 100 yards for a touchdown from the opening kick-off, resulting in a 30-0 hammering against Kansas City.
Houston’s road to the Super Bowl will see them play either New England or the Chiefs, which will require an outstanding display even if they beat the Raiders. Their number-one ranked defense, with Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Johnathan Joseph may give them a chance, even without the presence of the injured J.J Watt.
Oakland fans have had to endure a lot since their last appearance in the post-season in 2002. The club have failed to win more than five games in seven of their last 14 campaigns, while their hope of salvation in the 2007 Draft – quarterback Jamarcus Russell – proved to be one of the biggest busts in the history of the NFL.
Patience was the name of the game as general manager Reggie McKenzie initially struggled after being appointed in 2012. Dennis Allen’s hiring as head coach was a disaster and he was fired midway through the 2014 campaign, but the shoots of recovery were already in fruition as Khalil Mack and Carr were selected in the first two rounds of that year’s Draft.
Under the tenure of Del Rio the Raiders showed marked improvement, although it was still not enough to end their post-season drought. Carr and Mack propelled themselves into the upper echelons of their respective positions, while the selection of Amari Cooper paid dividends as he connected with the quarterback immediately.
This season Oakland put it all together to win matches that they were losing in the 2015 campaign. Victories over the New Orleans Saints, the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens proved their mettle and were a springboard for their success. Only the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons – two playoff sides – were able to beat them with Carr as their starter, highlighting the strides that the club had made over the year.
However, Carr’s injury has halted what could have been a surge towards the Super Bowl, with their defeat to the Denver Broncos leaving them with an uphill challenge in the post-season. Even if they overcome the stingy Texans defense the road ahead will likely lead to defeat.
Due to the Raiders’ injury woes at quarterback, the Texans will have the advantage heading into the contest. O’Brien’s men are playing on home soil and have a formidable defense, which will prove too much for a rookie quarterback on his first start to overcome.
The Raiders have other playmakers on offense, but Cook will not be able to carve open the experienced Houston secondary to guide his team to victory, sending the Texans into the divisional round for the first time in four years.
Houston Texans to beat the Oakland Raiders
Saturday 7th January 16:35 ET (21:35 GMT)
Oakland Raiders to cover +4 spread
Saturday 7th January 16:35 ET (21:35 GMT)