“First 48”

AFC Game Of The Week

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens

Texans: The AFC South has been a far more interesting division than I could’ve imagined. Gardner Minshew did all he could to keep the Jaguars in contention, the Titans are coming off a huge win over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Colts looked to be running away with the division at one point. What about the team who won the division last season? The Houston Texans have quietly gone about their business. With the Colts slipping in their last two games, the Texans sit atop the division with a 6-3 record. If you watch many of their games, they’ve been in a lot of close showdowns. Six of their eight games this year have been decided by seven points or less. Before their bye week, they had no problems at all handling their business against the Jacksonville Jaguars. When Lamar Miller went down, the question was who would handle the responsibilities as the starting running back? They’ve been fortunate enough to get production from two backs. After Miller tore his ACL, the Texans acquired Carlos Hyde from the Kansas City Chiefs. Along with Duke Johnson, they’ve become one of the better running back tandems in the NFL. The MVP talks are starting to heat up. Russell Wilson has emerged as the leader of the group. Deshaun Watson would be one of my candidates if the season were to end today. This kid continues to amaze me with the plays he’s makes. Without him, they aren’t in first place. On defense, they’ve lost some firepower in two years. They traded Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle and a few weeks ago, they lost J.J. Watt for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. To keep their winning ways going, they’ll face one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

Ravens: Isn’t it amazing in the off-season everyone wanted to gift wrap the division to a Cleveland Browns team who was gift-wrapped the division with a team that stood out on paper? Or the Steelers who were looking to be that sleeper team without their two best offensive players. I think the Baltimore Ravens have something to say about that. They have been one of the hottest teams in the NFL winners of five in a row including wins over the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle which we all know is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. Then, they handed the New England Patriots their first loss of the season. They have a record of 7-2 and have a nice lead in the AFC North. Just like you who’s reading this, I love watching Lamar Jackson play. I see a lot of Michael Vick comparisons which I don’t think is accurate. I can explain. Lamar at his age is a more advanced passer than Michael was when he first came into the league. If you remember Vick’s early days, he was a runner first. As a defense, you accounted for his running and the goal was to make him a passer. With Lamar, you must be attentive to both his running and passing. There was once a time when people said he should switch positions. Those people have eaten humble pie. The Ravens now are one of the two best teams in the AFC. They have a dynamic offense that can push the football down the field in a variety of ways. Look at how they handled business in Cincinnati last Sunday. With the Bengals starting a rookie quarterback, this was an opportunity for their defense to get it together. They did just that. The Ravens forced three turnovers while committing only one. Baltimore scored two defensive touchdowns, one on a pick-six and the other on a scoop-six, to help turn the game into a rout. They return home for a big AFC showdown with the Texans.

Texans Player to Watch: Zach Cunningham– He’s an inside linebacker that can do everything. He covers the flat on those short check down passes, he tackles in the open field, he covers, and he can get to the quarterback when sent on a blitz. I like the motor he plays with. He’s always in on the tackle or near the football to make a play. He’ll be needed in this one to help contain Lamar Jackson.

Ravens Player to Watch: Willie Snead IV– I thought he was the perfect piece for the Saints offense when he was in New Orleans. He’s a veteran asset that knows when to make a catch. He’s that “chain mover” that I always seem to bring up in my analysis. Next to Mark Andrews, this is another guy that can be that safety valve for the quarterback. Whenever you need a catch over the middle, this is your guy.

Final Analysis: I remember back in September 2015 when the Louisville Cardinals faced the Clemson Tigers in primetime. That was a very exciting matchup. Four years later, we’re getting ready for the first matchup between Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson. This could be a quarterback matchup to watch for years to come. I see this game coming down to the running game along with which defense can get to the other teams’ quarterback. Can the Texans secondary hold up? They’ve been very up and down this year. The matchup to watch in this game is Marcus Peters lining up against DeAndre Hopkins.

Prediction: Ravens 31 Texans 27

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