Photo via Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press
Wild Card Round
#5 Oakland (12-4) vs. #4 Houston (9-7)
Houston, Texas (NRG Stadium)
January 7th, 4:35 EST
In what has been dubbed one of the least influential playoff games of the year, the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans will face off in a game without “playoff implications”. Meaning people believe the winner of this game, who most likely will travel to New England next week, is guaranteed to lose to the Patriots.
The Raiders were having a promising season, and were considered the biggest threat to the Patriots, but that hope faded when Derek Carr broke his leg. Without Carr, the Raiders got demolished by a Denver team without playoff potential and have essentially become irrelevant. The rest of the team seems to have checked out, figuring they don’t have a realistic shot of winning a Super Bowl without their leader Derek Carr.
Houston’s playoff spot is the product of being in a terrible division. They’re a mediocre team with terrible quarterback play and a great defense. The only reason they’re in the playoffs is because they get to play the Colts, Jaguars and Titans for six out of 16 games, out of which they’re 5-1. Now, a playoff team with little reason to even be in this spot has a chance to get a win against the Derek Carr-less Raiders.
Raiders QB Connor Cook
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Playoff games are often made by the quarterback. Sadly, due to injury, neither team has a good quarterback. If the Raiders had Carr, they’d be the easy choice, but since it’s going to be rookie quarterback Connor Cook starting, they’ve become heavy underdogs.
Saturday will be Cook’s first career NFL start. Assuming nothing goes wrong, Cook will be the first quarterback in history to have their first start be in a playoff game. Cook played decently in limited play last week against Denver. He moved the ball well, throwing for 150 yards and a TD, but had three costly turnovers. His play looked promising, but also resembled a rookie quarterback. He may have a future in the league, but the time is not now. I expect him to struggle on Saturday.
Another thing Cook will have to cope with is facing the second ranked pass defense in the league one week after facing the Broncos, the number one team. A tough task for any quarterback, the Texans defense will likely create problems for Cook and the Raiders.
The Houston Texans quarterback situation isn’t much better. In the offseason, they signed Brock Osweiler to an absurd 72 million dollar contract. His terrible play this season led to him losing his job to career backup quarterback Tom Savage. Savage was doing a solid job until his concussion last week. Now, Osweiler is leading the offense again; bad news for the Texans. Osweiler is a turnover machine with more interceptions thrown than touchdowns this season (16 INT, 15 TD).
Oakland’s Offense vs. Houston’s Defense
Oakland’s has been horrid since Carr’s injury, totaling six points in their last five quarters played. They didn’t score in the 4th quarter against Indianapolis and could only muster six points against a Denver team that was eliminated the week before. Oakland’s incapable offense was also visible when Carr was out momentarily against Carolina in week 12. The offense completely stalled until Carr came back and it shows that Derek Carr IS Oakland’s offense.
For Oakland, Denver’s a good preview of Houston’s defense. They’re both highly ranked, and with good pass rushers and corners, are hard to pass against. The Raiders struggled mightily against Denver, so there’s no reason to believe it won’t be the same on Saturday. Not to mention, the Raiders will be without their pro bowl LT Donald Penn, which damages their chances of dominating the game through the ground. Then again, they probably wouldn’t be able to run the ball because the Texans could anticipate more runs without Derek Carr at quarterback; Carr put a lot of pressure on defenses so they couldn’t load the box. If the Raiders can’t run the ball effectively, there will be a lot of pressure on rookie Connor Cook to throw the ball, and the outcome will be a lot like last week’s game in Denver. Oakland probably won’t have much success running the ball and Houston’s defense will shut down the Raider offense.
Houston’s Offense vs. Oakland’s Defense
If the Raiders want even the slightest chance of winning, they will have to dominate on defense. Due to the lack of production they’ll get from their offense, they’ll need to force Brock Osweiler to be at his worst. Lots of turnovers and defensive scores could fuel the Raiders to a win.
I like the Raider’s defense more than I trust Houston’s offense. However, I don’t think the Raiders will be able to do enough on defense to win this game. Last week against Denver, they gave up 24 points. That’s not a terrible mark, but it’s more than Connor Cook is going to put on the board. The defense didn’t look great, though, because they were constantly gashed for big runs and didn’t put enough pressure on Siemian. Osweiler is worse than Siemian, but the Texans have a better running game behind Lamar Miller, a scary prospect for Raider fans.
Lamar Miller Breaks Loose in Mexico City
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The one positive for the Raiders is that their defense is healthy and has been getting better. Rookie Karl Joseph is back in the lineup, he’ll be a huge help. It’s also possible that Khalil Mack could become a game wrecker by sacking Osweiler a few times (or five like he did to Osweiler last year), and forcing a few turnovers. I like the Raider’s defense more than I like Houston’s offense, but that is because of how bad Osweiler is and not how good the Raiders defense is. I think they’ll hold the Texans to 17-20 points.
The Texans defense is in a position to completely dominate and I don’t see the Raiders scoring more than 14 points; they won’t be able to run the ball a lot and will lean on Cook to move the ball, which could result in numerous turnovers. The Raiders beat the Texans in Mexico City 26-20, but this time they’ll face them without Derek Carr and Donald Penn, in Houston. No one feels confident in the Raiders, I see Houston coming away with the win.
Houston 20, Oakland 14
Raiders vs. Texans Highlights (Mexico City)