In order to get a better grasp on this playoff matchup, we’ve enlisted the help of those who know these teams the best. Joe Fortenbaugh, a Covers writer and Raiders’ radio personality with 95.7 The Game in the Bay Area and Stephanie Stradley a blogger for the Houston Chronicle strap on the pads and debate which team will not only win, but cover the spread in Saturday’s AFC Wild Card showdown.
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans (-3.5, 36.5)
WHY THE RAIDERS WILL COVER
Joe Fortenbaugh is a writer for Covers and host of “Mornings with Joe, Lo and Dibbs” on 95.7 The Game in the Bay Area, the Oakland Raiders’ flagship station. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeFortenbaugh.
Show some life
It seems odd that you would have to mention this in regards to a professional sports franchise that has advanced to the postseason for the first time since 2002, but that’s what happens when your star quarterback and league MVP candidate breaks his leg approximately 70 minutes of football shy of the playoffs. In the five quarters since Derek Carr was lost for the season, the Oakland Raiders have looked absolutely lifeless, which was readily apparent to experts and amateurs alike last Sunday in Denver when the Broncos throttled the Silver and Black 24-6. Have the Raiders finally realized that it’s time to wake up and play some football, or is Oakland still so distraught over losing Carr that Saturday’s game in Houston is nothing more than a sixty-minute obstacle between the team and a Caribbean vacation?
If star cornerback and pending unrestricted free agent A.J. Bouye draws the assignment of shadowing two-time Pro Bowl wideout Amari Cooper, then Crabtree will need to have the game of his life in order for the Raiders to advance. That could pose a serious problem for Oakland, as the Texas Tech product notched just three receptions for five yards on seven targets the last time these two teams got together back on November 21. Rookie quarterback Connor Cook is going to need a security blanket and Crabtree is the most capable man for the job. And don’t forget about the fact that this guy had his gold chain snatched off his neck last Sunday by Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. It’s time to play with some fire.
Win the special teams battle
This matchup currently features a total of just 37 points, which is Sin City’s way of telling you that every single possession will matter in a significant way. That includes pinning the opposition deep via the punting game, converting any and all field goal opportunities and avoiding costly penalties that could back your offense up into the danger zone. The Raiders have one of the league’s fastest and most athletic punters in Marquette King, who doubles as the holder for Sebastian Janikowski’s field goal and PAT tries. Don’t be surprised if head coach Jack Del Rio dials up a fake punt or field goal at an opportune moment.
WHY THE TEXANS WILL COVER
Stephanie Stradley is a Texans blogger for the Houston Chronicle. You can follow her on Twitter @StephStradley.
Romeo Crennel game planning against a rookie quarterback who is having his first game in the playoffs on the road against the #1 defense in the league? Yes, please. Though the Texans offensive struggles and quarterback contract tend to get the most national attention, the Texans defense has done remarkable things, despite being hurt in key spots throughout the season. They rested key players last week and are ready to go. A matchup to watch is whether Raiders left tackle Donald Penn plays to his normally excellent self after suffering a knee injury last week and not practicing this week.
7-1 at Home
Texans home field advantage has worked out for them this season, and NRG Stadium due to its vertical configuration with the seats close to the field can be a very loud place for opposing offenses to operate, particularly with playoff football.
The Raiders are the most penalized team in the league and they are worse on the road. The Texans are the least penalized team. Also, the Raiders have the most pre-snap penalties and the Texans have the least. In an ugly game, penalties can be a difference maker.