Wild Card Weekend Tale: Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
- QuarterbackThe Raiders took a couple of major blows in the past two weeks with the loss of Derek Carr (broken fibula) and their defeat in Week 17 at Denver that cost them the AFC West title. Matt McGloin suffered an injured shoulder in that game, and he was replaced by rookie Connor Cook. If McGloin can’t play, Cook must show that he can hit the open receiver and avoid costly mistakes.The Texans have their own quarterback problems, as Tom Savage replaced Brock Osweiler in Week 16, but Savage suffered a concussion last Sunday against the Titans. Neither Savage nor Osweiler are proven commodities at this point, but the belief is that Savage may be closer to helping a team win than Osweiler, who makes far too many mistakes.
- OffenseThe Raiders made their move this season largely because their offense became one of the best units in the league. Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are a potent duo who can make the clutch catch and take long plays the distance. Latavius Murray and Jalen Richard are effective running the ball and can punish opponents with big plays.The Texans' offense has regularly failed to live up to its potential, and much of that is due to Osweiler’s lack of accuracy and an inability to make plays when the game is on the line. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the game’s best receivers, but his numbers suffered with Osweiler. Running back Lamar Miller ran for 1,073 yards, but the Texans ranked 29th on offense.
- DefenseThe Raiders don’t have a shutdown defense, but they have a star in Khalil Mack who is capable of setting a tone and carrying the defense on his back. Mack had 11.0 sacks in the regular season along with five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Malcolm Smith had a team-leading 103 tackles and Reggie Nelson had five interceptions.The Texans had a fine year on defense even though they were forced to play without superstar J.J. Watt for all but three games. The Texans have a pair of game-changing players in Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. They combined for 13.5 sacks, while inside linebacker Bernardrick McKinney had a monster year with 129 tackles and 5.0 sacks.
- Special TeamsIf the Raiders don’t shoot themselves in the foot on offense, they should have an excellent chance to gain a big advantage on special teams. Veteran PK Sebastian Janikowski is tough in the clutch, and he made 29-of-35 FG attempts. Marquette King may be the best punter in the league.The Texans have been among the tail-enders in special teams for years, and that has not changed this season. They rank 31st in overall special teams play, and their coverage teams are vulnerable to the big play. Nick Novak is an ordinary placekicker.
The Raiders had a stellar season, but they are going to have to prove they can win without their star quarterback. Houston head coach Bill O’Brien has not shown he can handle the big moments.