At this point it doesn’t matter how it happens, as long as our team wins. That has to be the mindset of both Bill O’Brien and John Harbaugh, two coaches of two separate but equally flawed teams, in the midst of a playoff shuffle. The Ravens (5-5), with no offense to be found, rely solely on their defense, led by future Hall of Fame linebacker Terrell Suggs and blooming superstar linebacker C.J. Mosley.
The Texans have seemed to have lost everything. They have lost their starting quarterback. They have lost their best player, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year honoree. They have lost two of their best playmakers at linebacker. They also have lost their best downfield threat on offense and their No. 2 running back. Yet, despite all that, the Texans (4-6) are still here, still fighting in the thick of the playoff hunt amongst the rest of the lowly AFC.
A win for the Texans keeps them alive for one more week, still with a losing record, but alive nonetheless. A loss has the front office prepping for the draft and dreaming of a healthy Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt in 2018. A win for the Ravens puts them inside the playoff picture for at least one week, while a loss puts them on the outside looking in with about a half dozen other fringe teams.
Houston at Baltimore
Kickoff: Monday, Nov. 27 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Baltimore -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Ravens’ playoff hopes
Somehow, even after losing five of their last seven games, the Ravens are still in control of their own playoff destiny. With a win on Sunday over the free-falling Chiefs, the Bills took over the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff picture, jumping the Ravens in the process. But with a win on Monday night, the Ravens would have a better AFC record and steal back the final wild-card spot from the Bills. Lost yet? No? Good.
If Baltimore can take care of Houston at home, the rest of the schedule sets up quite favorably. The final six games of the season would see the Ravens on the road only twice (Pittsburgh, Cleveland) and facing only two teams with winning records (Pittsburgh, Detroit). But a loss to Houston on Monday night would put the Ravens at 5-6, along with the Texans, Bengals, Chargers and Raiders, turning every game for the rest of the season into must-wins.
2. Can Savage step up?
Tom Savage wasn’t Bill O’Brien’s first choice to start at quarterback. Well, he was, way back in Week 1, but that notion lasted all of 30 minutes of football. The Texans were thriving under rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson before he tore his ACL in practice. Because of Watson’s injury, it’s Savage’s offense to run for the rest of the season. Currently, the Texans find themselves on the outside of the muddled AFC playoff picture, but still have a glimmer of hope, even with a losing record.
For the Texans to take that next step offensively, it starts with Savage and protecting the football. In just five and a half games of work, Savage leads the NFL in fumbles lost with six — which is really quite remarkable when you think about it — including three in the past two weeks to go along with three interceptions. Savage faces a Baltimore defense that ranks second in the league with 23 takeaways, including seven fumble recoveries.
With no Will Fuller or D’Onta Foreman in the lineup for the Texans’ offense, Savage is going to be forced to make plays against this aggressive Ravens defense. Look for Savage to heavily target All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins (above, right) who only had four catches on nine targets a week ago.
3. Is Joe Flacco any good?
What started as the Mother of All Hot Takes, has been turned into an unfunny joke. Beaten to death by bros with podcasts in vans, and exacerbated by game day signs, and even posed during a Republican Party presidential primary debate on FOX News — “Is Joe Flacco elite?” was its own crying Jordan meme before the crying Jordan meme, only more exhausted.
The funny thing about the debate on Flacco’s “eliteness” was it was actually brought up before the Ravens won a Super Bowl and before Flacco signed a $120 million deal ($52 million guaranteed), making him the highest-paid player at the time. But now, the debate is over — if there ever was one — Flacco isn’t elite — he’s not even good, and the numbers back it up.
In 10 starts this season, Falcco has surpassed 200 passing yards just four times, 250 yards once, has thrown more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (9) and sits 27th in passing yards behind the likes of DeShone Kizer, Jameis Winston, Blake Bortles, Trevor Siemian, and Carson Palmer. Siemian and Palmer have each only played in seven games this season. The Ravens currently rank 18th in points per game (21.3), 30th in yards per game (279.8), and 32nd in passing (165.2 ypg).
Forget ever being elite, let’s just try and attain some form of decency, here.
Silly discourse aside, one thing remains true: if the Ravens want to have any shot of making the playoffs, let alone winning a game in the playoffs, Flacco is going to have to be more than what he’s been this season — which has been nothing short of bad.
Seven points sure seems like a lofty spread in favor of a team that has one of the NFL’s worst offenses week in and week out. But that’s what Vegas thinks of this Texans team, a team missing its biggest stars (J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Whitney Mercilus) and lacking any sort of offensive identity. The same lack of offensive identity could be said for the Ravens as well, a team that relies too much on its defense to make plays in order to win. And with the Texans’ defense as short-handed as it is, I’m taking the Ravens in what may not be the most exciting offerings of “Monday Night Football.”
Prediction: Ravens 17, Texans 14
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.