This season’s NFL playoffs will end at Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, and the postseason will also begin there on Saturday afternoon when AFC South champion and No. 4 seed Houston faces No. 5 Oakland. A stadium hadn’t hosted a playoff game and the Super Bowl in the same season since after the 1998 campaign. Hopefully you like defense if planning to watch this game or bet on it on Sports Interaction NFL playoff odds because it has a ridiculously low total.
Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans
Point spread:Texans -3.5
Date: Saturday, Jan. 7, 4:35 p.m. ET
Location: NRG Stadium, Houston
The Raiders (12-4) are in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and Jack Del Rio is a top NFL Coach of the Year candidate. But in all honesty, the Raiders’ season essentially ended in Week 16 when quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr broke his leg. This team had a shot to win a Super Bowl with Carr leading a terrific offense. Without him, the Raiders’ likely ceiling would be a win here and then a one-sided loss next week in the divisional round.
Former Penn State walk-on and undrafted free agent Matt McGloin started in Carr’s place in Week 17 at Denver. Had Oakland won that game, and the Broncos had nothing to play for, then it would have been the AFC’s No. 2 seed and been off this week. That’s important to know because McGloin hurt his shoulder in the second quarter against Denver and didn’t return. He was replaced by 2016 fourth-round pick Connor Cook, who made his NFL debut and was 14-for-21 for 150 yards with a touchdown pass, interception and lost fumble in the 24-6 loss.
It’s Cook who is expected to get the start here as McGloin isn’t likely to be ready — that extra week off certainly would have helped Oakland. Cook would become the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first NFL start in the postseason. His last start was in the College Football Playoff following the 2015 season for Michigan State and the Spartans were destroyed by Alabama 38-0. Cook was awful in that game and it hurt his draft status in a big way.
Houston ranked No. 2 against the pass in the NFL during the regular season, so expect a heavy dose of the run Saturday by the Raiders. However, the Broncos stacked the box to stop the run and dared Oakland to win by throwing and the Raiders had just 57 yards rushing.
The Raiders are 10-6 ATS this season and 6-2 ATS on the road.
The Texans (9-7) won the NFL’s worst division, the AFC South, for a second year in a row. And it’s a good thing Houston clinched that in Week 16 with a victory over Cincinnati and a Tennessee loss in Jacksonville. Otherwise, the Texans and Titans would have played a winner-take-all game in Week 17 in Nashville. The Titans won that this past Sunday, 24-17.
In last year’s wild-card playoffs at home, Houston was crushed 30-0 by Kansas City as then-starting QB Brian Hoyer had five turnovers. So the Texans’ top priority this offseason was to upgrade at quarterback and they signed Broncos free-agent Brock Osweiler to a four-year deal worth $37 million guaranteed despite his limited experience.
That move was a giant bust as Osweiler was struggling so badly that he was benched during Week 15. Tom Savage replaced him and led a comeback win over the Jaguars and then started the victory over the Bengals. But against Tennessee, Savage, who started again, suffered a concussion so Texans coach Bill O’Brien already has said he’s starting Osweiler in this one. Osweiler was 21-for-40 for 253 yards and a touchdown vs. the Titans in relief of Savage, who will be the No. 2 if he clears the concussion protocol. Osweiler was the NFL’s second-lowest rated QB this season.
Houston will get a key player back from injury in No. 1 running back Lamar Miller. He missed the final two weeks of the regular season with an ankle injury. The Texans are 6-9-1 ATS this season and 4-3-1 ATS at home.
Raiders vs. Texans Predictions
These teams played the first Monday night game in league history outside the United States in Week 11 in Mexico City. Oakland rallied for a 27-20 victory. Carr threw three touchdown passes, a tying 75-yarders to Jamize Olawale early in the fourth quarter and the winning 35-yarder to Amari Cooper with just under five minutes to go. Oakland couldn’t run the ball at all. Miller was Houston’s top offensive player with 104 yards and a TD on 24 carries. Osweiler was just OK.
This one could be ugly, like baseball score ugly. Take Houston, but give the 2.5 points on the alternate line at -152. Go under that total even as low as it is.