OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-4)
at HOUSTON TEXANS (9-7)
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - NRG Stadium – Houston, TX
Kickoff: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Line: Houston -3.5, Total: 36.5
The AFC Wild Card round kicks off with a matchup in Houston between Connor Cook’s Raiders and Brock Osweiler’s Texans.
In what is sure to be one of the worst quarterback duels in the history of the league, QB Connor Cook will be hoping to lead the Raiders to a victory over QB Brock Osweiler (2,957 yards, 15 TD, 16 INT) and the Texans. Oakland is in an unfortunate situation coming into this game, as the team went 12-4 yet still needs to play on the road against a team that went just 9-7. Still, that’s the way it is and the Raiders are going to need to find a way to win this one. The loss of Derek Carr (Leg) will definitely hurt, but there is still enough talent here for this team to make a run. It’s worth noting that Oakland beat Houston 27-20 on Nov. 21, but the Raiders were the home team in that game. The Texans, meanwhile, come into this game as AFC South division champs. They played well down the stretch this season, winning three of their final four games. Some trends that stand out when looking at this game are that the Raiders are 11-2 ATS in road games against conference opponents under head coach Jack Del Rio and the Texans are 14-5 ATS as favorites under head coach Bill O’Brien. S Karl Joseph (Foot) is expected to play for Oakland in this game. That’s big news for the team, as he missed each of the past four weeks. For Houston, LB Jadeveon Clowney (Elbow) is listed as questionable. It’d be surprising if he didn’t play, though.
The Raiders have no choice but to turn to Connor Cook in this game, but the team will be hoping that Cook doesn’t need much babysitting. Cook has big game experience, as he played in some huge ones when he was the starter at Michigan State. Still, this is the NFL and it’s an unfortunate time for Cook to be making his first career start. Look for Oakland to call a lot of plays that emphasize getting the ball out of his hands quickly. Fortunately, the team does have weapons in WRs Amari Cooper (83 rec, 1,153 yards, 5 TD) and Michael Crabtree (89 rec, 1,003 yards, 8 TD). Both guys are capable of making big plays, and they’ll need to do everything they can to help out their rookie signal-caller in this one. On the ground, RBs Latavius Murray (788 yards, 12 TD) and DeAndre Washington (467 yards, 2 TD) should be expecting a busy day. Oakland is going to need to lean heavily on the run, and both guys are capable of getting it going. Washington, however, has been the guy that they have leaned on recently. Over the past two weeks, Washington has rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll need to be ready to rock against Houston. Defensively, LB Khalil Mack must make the same type of impact that he has all season. If he can constantly break into the Texans backfield then the Raiders should be able to really shut Houston down.
With Tom Savage suffering a concussion against Jacksonville, the door reopened for Brock Osweiler to take the starting job. That might be bad news for Houston, as Osweiler has been downright miserable this season. Osweiler has thrown two or more picks in four different games this season, and he’ll need to make sure he avoids turnovers in this game. He will also, however, need to be aggressive too. Osweiler has been afraid to take shots down the field this season, and that wastes the abilities of both WRs DeAndre Hopkins (78 rec, 954 yards, 4 TD) and Will Fuller V (47 rec, 635 yards, 2 TD). Hopkins is one of the best receivers in football, and Osweiler needs to find a way to get him the ball. Fuller, meanwhile, is lightning quick, and is a dangerous deep threat. RB Lamar Miller (1,073 yards, 7 TD) will, however, be the focal point of this Houston offense on Saturday. Miller was excellent in his first season with the Texans, and his presence will take a lot of pressure off of Osweiler. He also happens to have had success against this Raiders team already, as Miller rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders on Nov. 21. Defensively, the Texans need to get pressure on Cook. This is his first career start, so Houston can definitely force him to make some mistakes.