Oakland Raiders (12-4 SU, 10-6 ATS) vs. Houston Texans (9-7 SU, 6-9-1 ATS)
AFC Wild Card Playoff
Date/Time: Saturday, January 7, 2017 at 4:35PM EST
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: OAK +3.5/HOU -3.5
Over/Under Total: 36.5
The Oakland Raiders come to NRG Stadium on the 7th to face the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round of the AFC playoffs. Neither team is really hitting the postseason in ideal form. The Raiders saw things come unhinged late in the season with the injury to Derek Carr. Against Denver in a key loss on Sunday that cost them the division and a first-round bye, backup Matt McGloin went down with a shoulder issue, replaced by rookie Connor Cook. A team that held so much promise a few weeks ago is now a major question mark. Meanwhile, the Texans are coming off a loss to the Titans on Sunday, but had already sewn up the division. After losing Tom Savage, they went back to Brock Osweiler and also enter this game with some questions at quarterback.
These teams met on November 21 in a week 11 matchup, with the Raiders beating Houston in Oakland, 27-20. Normally, that game would be a greater source of info, but with the personnel changes since then on both teams, maybe not so much. But a few things stuck out from that game. On the ground, the Texans were far better, with Lamar Miller going over 100 yards against the dicey Oakland run-defense. Oakland relied more on aerial production, something that could raise eyebrows heading into this game with Carr now sidelined. Still, most of their passing work in that game was of the short variety, with Carr hitting his backs for short dinky completions. And the Oakland offensive line did well in protecting Carr and will need to do so again with whoever ends up being center for Oakland.
The Texans are an easy team to overlook, also entering the postseason with some QB issues. Not a lot of teams end up winning their division despite scoring 279 points, while giving up 328 points. They won a lot of close games and were beaten conclusively in some losses. And they covered only 6 spreads all season. With Osweiler being benched, the Texans went with Tom Savage, who suffered a concussion on Sunday. Osweiler was hardly inspiring when put back into action. By the same token, this is a team that managed to win its division without really ever having fine QB play all season. And at home, they were appreciably better, going 7-1 on the season. It's easy to blow off the Texans' postseason chances, but they find a way to win at home even if it's seldom impressive. The Texans just don't register along the lines in which we're accustomed. That especially applies on offense, as they're the league's 29th-ranked group. What makes it come together is the league's top-ranked defense, led by a top-notch secondary.
On offense, there isn't a lot to like about the Texans. And if you've tuned in and caught some Texans games this season, you were probably struck by how pedestrian they are on this side of the ball. Lamar Miller was pretty good, though inconsistent, in his first season in Houston, just over 1000 yards on the season. Alfred Blue has chipped in with 420 on the ground. Through the air, they're fairly subdued, ranked 29th in the league. DeAndre Hopkins was well off his normal numbers, going under 1000 yards on the season. Chipping in is rookie Will Fuller and a pair of productive tight ends in CJ Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin. The offense averages just over 17 points a game with 27 points being their high-water mark of the season.
The Houston defense really got its act together this season, despite some key losses, including JJ Watt. They've gotten a good pass-rush from Whitney Mercillus, Jadeveon Clowney (questionable), and Benardrick McKinney. In the secondary, they've gotten good play from Quintin Demps, Andre Hal, Kareem Jackson. Corey Moore, and AJ Bouye. Only one team scored in the 30's against them all season. And regardless of how wayward the offense seems, this defense is usually able to keep them in the game. And again, at home, this defense has been a bit better, giving up an average of just 17 points a game.
Regardless of how you feel about Oakland in general, it's hard to not feel bad for them and how the season has ended. You'd like to think the offense can soldier on with that good offensive line, run-game, and balanced approach. But Derek Carr was a big part of this Oakland renaissance this season and suddenly not having him is a major blow to their chances. With a divisional title and a first-round bye at stake, they couldn't even be marginally competitive with a Denver team that had nothing to play for on Sunday other than pride or wanting to send coach Kubiak off on a positive note. The 24-6 loss was a bad first peek at a Carr-less Raiders bunch.
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The Raiders will now have to call upon that character and grit that they developed this season—first by resurrecting a long-suffering franchise and in the way they pulled out so many close games. They are a team with some fire and they now call on that in light of the dilapidated QB situation. Despite how they've looked since Carr has been out of action, scoring 6 points in the last five quarters, perhaps not everything in so bleak for the Raiders. They worked on overall balance this season, with the aerial game still a big part of the plan, but with more reliance on defense and the run-game. And for those things, a quarterback needn't be great. If they can get the run game cooking and call on more from their defense, with some key throws to Crabtree and Cooper here and there, it's not hard to imagine the Raiders getting back on the right track against the Texans.
This is a big moment for the Oakland defense—an imperfect group, but also one that has shown a lot of moxie this season, in addition to having a nice playmaking ability. Against Houston, their lack of a good run-stop becomes an issue. They need the good things about this defense to surface this week—a good pass-rush led by Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. And playmaking was a big part of a secondary that wasn't all that stout, led by Reggie Nelson and his five picks, along with Sean Smith, David Amerson, and others. Can they keep the Houston offense in check to the extent where a suddenly-dicey Oakland offense can surface?
There are a lot of considerations in this game. Houston's quarterback situation isn't all that much better than Oakland's, but they're accustomed to it more and have shown they can continue to win in the midst of it. Oakland hasn't. But despite all that, this game has the earmarks of a close contest where having the points might just be a big help. I'm taking Oakland and the points.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Oakland Raiders plus 3.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Oaland vs. Houston wild card playoff game by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!