The Baltimore Ravens squandered a chance to take control of their division a week ago. A second straight defeat could jeopardize their stranglehold on a wild card spot.
The Ravens play their second consecutive game in prime time when they travel to Houston to take on the Texans in a Monday Night Football matchup.
Despite last Sunday night's 13-10 loss to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in a showdown for first place in the AFC North, Baltimore (8-4) remains in firm control of its postseason destiny.
That is, unless the Ravens stumble against the Texans (5-7), who are easily the most dangerous team in the NFL without a winning record.
Playing at home, Baltimore was minutes away from pulling off a season sweep of the Steelers until a late sack that forced quarterback Joe Flacco to fumble led to Pittsburgh's winning touchdown with 2:51 to play.
With a game against defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans on the horizon, the Ravens could add plenty of drama to the AFC playoff race if they fail to dispose of Houston, which needs to win out and get a lot of help to continue playing beyond the regular season.
The Texans suffered another near-miss in a season of agonizing defeats against Philadelphia on Dec. 2, erasing a 14-point deficit to take the lead at the end of three quarters.
But their much-maligned defense was unable to control Michael Vick and the Eagles, who responded with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 34-24 victory.
Despite its record, Houston has the requisite balance and firepower on offense to test the vaunted defense of Baltimore, which ranks second in the AFC (to Pittsburgh) in points allowed at 16.8 points per game.
Running back Arian Foster has come out of nowhere to rush for an NFL-leading 1,230 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also has amassed 1,709 yards from scrimmage to top the league in that category.
Foster has six 100-yard games but will be tested by a defense that ranks sixth overall with 97.8 yards per game and has surrendering only five touchdowns on the ground.
Wide receiver Andre Johnson is among the league’s elite receivers. Despite being troubled by an ankle injury for much of the season, he is fourth in the league with 1,018 yards on the strength of 71 catches and five scoring passes.
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown only one interception in the past four games, but the Texans have lost three of those games. He should be helped by the expected return of tight end Owen Daniels, who has been sidelined for five games with a hamstring injury.
Flacco will be looking to rebound from a rough second half against the Steelers. After a strong opening half, he completed just 8 of 19 passes in the final 30 minutes and bounced a changeup in the dirt to snuff out Baltimore’s final chance.
Facing Houston’s defense, which ranks 29th overall and 31st in yardage allowed, should help Flacco get back on track. The Texans have yielded at least 29 points to seven of their last eight opponents.
Baltimore also is good at playing the role of bully since Flacco was drafted in the first round in 2008. Since that time, the Ravens are 15-1 against teams with records below .500.
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Key Players to Watch
- SuspensionElig Week 5 | out
Hurst will have to wait until Week 5 against the Chargers to make his team debut as he will have to serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy.
- KneeQues Week 1 | questionable
Breeland is on the mend from a torn ACL and meniscus in his knee, leaving his status for Week 1 versus the Browns in question.