The Baltimore Ravens are one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL. An impressive campaign helped Jim Harbaugh’s team earn the first seed in the Conference playoff bracket. They enjoyed a bye during Wild Card weekend but must come prepared to fight to extend the season this Saturday. C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans have their sights on advancing to the next phase and are determined to reign over the AFC. It would put a bow on a historic season for DeMeco Ryans’ group and solidify them as a team to watch.
Here are some bold predictions for the first game of a long Divisional Weekend
Bold Prediction #3: C.J Stroud will throw two or more touchdowns
The first step to clinching a playoff berth is executing during the regular season. DeMeco Ryans' squad accomplished a plethora of goals this campaign. The successful missions paved the way to a spot in the AFC Conference bracket. C.J. Stroud became the backbone of the franchise. He led fearlessly. It resulted in the best season the Texans’ have experienced since 2019. A fresh start provided the rookie quarterback with a blueprint to follow for the rest of his career. Stroud will become an elite gunslinger. There is evidence of that in 2023.
Consistency is the measuring rod coaches use to determine potential. Break-out performances are special but only provide a quick fix. Reliable X-factors are valuable and hard to come by. Nick Caserio exchanged the second pick in the 2023 NFL Draft for the best quarterback prospect. His decision bore fruits that his franchise will enjoy for serval years. This season, Stroud threw more touchdown passes than Trevor Lawerence (21), Justin Herbert (20) and Joe Burrow (15). He limited turnovers (5) and kept the offense moving. His efforts helped the Texans above water - eventually giving them new life.
Expectations in a crucial AFC Divisional round are high for No.7. A stout performance against the Cleveland Browns last weekend reassured fans that Stroud is the right guy for the job. The rookie completed 76.2 percent of his passes against Jim Schwartz’s stingy secondary. Stroud has thrown five touchdown passes in the last two weeks. I expect him to add at least two more to his post-season total despite facing a top-rated Ravens defense.
Bold Prediction #2: Jonathan Greenard and Will Anderson Jr. will combine for at least four sacks
Lamar Jackson is the best dual-threat quarterback in the NFL. His speed, agility, and football IQ make it difficult for defensive coordinators to slow down his production. The sixth-year gunslinger showed tremendous growth during the regular season. Jackson recorded his season high in passing yards (3,678) offensive grading (90.4), and completions (307). He’s the catalyst for the offense and a nightmare for opponents. Jim Harbaugh’s starters are well-rested after two weeks without action. They were benched in Week 18 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and enjoyed a first-round bye.
Two weeks away from the gridiron could present problems for Harbaugh’s squad. Their opponents grew accustomed to the urgency of the playoffs. The Texans are hungry to repeat their efforts after a successful weekend. They know containing No.7 is the key to victory in the Divisional Round. Will Anderson Jr. is the perfect man to keep Lamar Jackson contained. He’s recorded three sacks since Week 17 with hopes of acquiring more. Assistance from Jonathan Greenard will keep Lamar Jackson accounted for Saturday afternoon. The fourth-year edge rusher had four quarterback pressures against the Browns. Lamar Jackson was sacked 37 times this season. We expect Houston to apply pressure to make him feel uncomfortable.
Bold Prediction: #1: The Houston Texans offensive line will not allow a sack in the second half
Protecting the quarterback is vital for both franchises this weekend. Scoring becomes difficult when offenses cannot move the football. The Houston Texans understand this philosophy but have yet to successfully apply it consistently. Bobby Slowik’s offensive line allowed 38 sacks this season (t-7th). Last Saturday, Luckily, their quarterback was resilient enough to persevere. An impressive performance from the offensive line kept Stroud clean in the Wild Card round. The Cleveland Browns ranked first in pass rush during the regular season but failed to record a sack. Unnecessary blows in the backfield create stalemates - resulting in a lack of points. The Texans cannot afford to fall behind on Saturday and must shield C.J. Stroud against a stout front seven.
Keeping Stroud on his feet is easier said than done. The Ravens have an elite front seven that will focus on disrupting rhythm. This season, Baltimore ranked seventh in pass rush (92.9). Justin Madubuike (14) and Jadeveon Clowney (10) led the unit in sacks and intend to continue their streak of terror this weekend. The Texans understand how important a win is and must do what it takes to succeed. Houston allowed ten sacks on third downs this season and must make adjustments to compete. The second half of the Divisional Round match-up will be close in score. DeMeco Ryans’ unit will eliminate mistakes to solidify a consecutive victory. Keeping Stroud upright will help them achieve this goal. They will rise to the occasion and will not allow a second-half sack.
The Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs is the last game before franchises compete for Conference bragging rights. The Houston Texans worked hard to get to this moment. They must play hard and focus on the mission in front of them. These bold predictions are more like keys to success. The Texans will advance to the next round if they can accomplish these challenges.
All statistics couresty of pff.com