Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans Picks & Preview

It will be a battle of AFC heavyweights when the Baltimore Ravens fly into Reliant Stadium to take on the Houston Texans (1pm ET, Sunday). Both teams are currently 5-1 on the season and both also have a firm lead in their respective divisions.

The Texans were the last AFC team to be defeated but when they did surrender last week against the Green Bay Packers, it was a pretty sound defeat. It didn’t help the Texans that Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers was out to prove he was still elite and that the Green Bay defense intercepted Houston QB Matt Schaub twice.

Still, the Texans did not come out as they had in the first five games, previously going 5-0 and scoring 149 points while yielding just 73. Against the Packers, the Texan defense allowed Rodgers to throw for six touchdowns leading the offense to 42 points, the most by far given up by Houston this season. Plain and simple, the Texans came out flat and have since begun to put doubts in people’s minds that considered them a Superbowl lock.

The Ravens, after looking strong the past few weeks, suffered a tremendous blow with the announcement that linebacker and emotional defensive leader Ray Lewis, was going to be out for the season.

In addition to losing Lewis, the Ravens’ in spite of their record, haven’t looked like the Superbowl contender many expected them to be. They did beat New England and Dallas in two tight games but just barely edged past a 1-5 Kansas City team.

Their only loss came in a comeback victory for the Philadelphia Eagles. Since then, the Ravens have won four in a row and have scored 94 points to their opponents’ 81. As evidenced by these numbers however, the Ravens are winning the close games and doing enough to keep themselves in each game.

With two strong teams taking the field, both will have to step up their game. Houston is favored pretty heavily with 6.5 points but historically Baltimore has owned the rivalry six games to none. Houston could be in position to get their first win but even if they don’t, one team will go to 6-1 and will have the sole AFC lead.

Linebacker Loss: Are the Ravens or Texans More Equipped to Overcome the Loss of Their Probowl Linebackers?

Last week, as I mentioned, Baltimore was dealt the crushing blow of losing LB Ray Lewis to a season-ending injury. The 37-year-old Lewis has been a constant on this Raven’s defense since he was drafted by and played his first NFL game with the team in 1996.

NFL Odds at BetOnline17 years later, Lewis led a group of Ravens’ defenders as he came forth saying he would take a “hometown discount” to continue playing with the team. In his successful career, Lewis has collected incredible accolades including 13 Pro Bowl selections, seven first team All-Pro selections, A Superbowl MVP, three time AFC Defensive Player of the Year and two time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  He has set records for the middle linebacker position and is the only player in NFL history that can boast 40 career sacks and 30 career interceptions.

The week before Baltimore took the tough news, it was Houston that was forced to deal with an injury to their inside linebacker Brian Cushing as an ACL tear has him out for the rest of the season. While not having Lewis’ numbers, Cushing has been very important for the Texans in his four year NFL career. He won the team MVP in 2011 and was also selected first team All-Pro in 2011. In his rookie year (2009), Cushing won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and made his first and only Pro Bowl. In his career, Cushing has 330 tackles, 9.5 sacks and seven interceptions.

Needless to say, both of these teams are in for a tough rest of the season attempting to replace these two linebackers. For the Texans, the temporary solution is seven year pro, Tim Dobbins. It is expected that Bradie James, who led the team in tackles against Green Bay with eight, will have an increased role as well.

For the Ravens, the answer is likely going to be five year vet, Jameel McClain. McClain has 4.5 sacks in his career, four fumbles recovered and one interception. He is not an optimal choice but with the expected return of Terrell Suggs from the IR, the Ravens’ should be okay with Lewis. Also, they are 7-1 in games without him in the past 17 years, so the confidence is there that without Lewis the Baltimore season is not lost.

Arian Foster Could Be in For a Big Game Against the Baltimore Defense

In this league there are great running backs like Baltimore’s Ray Rice or Philadelphia’s Lesean McCoy and then there is Arian Foster of the Texans. To put it simply, Foster is in a class of his own and in his first four years in the NFL, is already looking to be on pace to break the rushing records of Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.

The 26-year-old running back has been absolutely lighting it up on the field this year, showing he is fully recovered from the injury that caused him to miss the 2011 season. He already has rushed the ball an incredible 149 times and has managed 561 yards and seven touchdowns leading all running backs. He averages 93.5 yards a game helping to lead the Texans to the sixth best rushing attack in the league.

The Ravens meanwhile are having an uncharacteristically bad season against the run that only looks to get worst without Lewis. The team is ranked 26th in the league against the run, allowing nearly 137 yards a game.

Ravens at Texans Betting Picks

For the Texans (-300 on the moneyline), their biggest strength comes when they run. Foster runs this offense and on the season when he has carried the ball 24 times or more, the Texans are 4-1. With the Ravens’ (+250 on the moneyline) poor rush defense, Foster could look to see his carries top 20 again.

It seems the Texans have the opportunity to break their six game losing streak against the Ravens. However on the sportsbooks’ spreads they have to concede 7 points. That is a big ask, especially considering the Ravens are 3-0 ATS when playing at Reliant Stadium.

NFL betting lines at BetOnline