AFC Wild Card Preview: Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans

By Joanne Kong

Twitter: @kongfu4u  AFC West Week 16

AFC Wild Card Game


Saturday, January 7th @ 4:35 pm (EST) on ESPN

Over/Under: 36.5

Houston Texans favored by 3.5

Now that you’ve won, or more likely lost, your fantasy league and have nothing invested…like whether a running back has a rushing touchdown or a wide-receiver has over a hundred receiving yards…you can finally enjoy the purity of the sport and no longer be conflicted when watching your team play against your fantasy defense.

So, we enter the AFC wild card playoffs.

The Oakland Raiders are in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, having an unexpectedly spectacular year. However, with Derek Carr ruled out (after breaking his leg in week 16) and Matt McGloin limited after suffering a shoulder injury in week 17 in a loss to division rivals, the Denver Broncos, the Oakland Raiders will start rookie quarterback Connor Cook.  The starting quarterback for the Michigan State Spartans, Cook was a 4th round pick (100th) by the Raiders in 2016 and is no stranger to the pressures of big games.  Cook won the Rose Bowl MVP (2014) and two Big Ten Championship Game MVP (2013, 2015) awards during his college career.  But, the NFL isn’t college.  In week 17, Cook made 14 out of 21 attempts, threw for 150 yards, had a touchdown, an interception, was sacked twice and had a quarterback rating of just 11.9.

Connor Cook – AP Photo

The Houston Texans have won the AFC South for the second year in a row. In 2015, the Texans lost the wild card game to the Kansas City Chiefs, 0-30, with quarterback, Brian Hoyer, throwing five turnovers.  Committed to stabilizing the quarterback position, the Texans signed free-agent, Brock Osweiler, for $37-million guaranteed.   Unfortunately, Osweiler’s inconsistency made him unreliable and he was eventually benched in week 15.  And it’s no wonder, Osweiler was the NFL’s second lowest rated quarterback, 72.2, this season, with Ryan Fitzpatrick (otherwise known as the “$12-million bust”) rated last.

Excited yet?

According to ESPN, they don’t expect many people to be excited about this wild card match-up, expecting to lose $75-million on this wild card match-up.  Why?

Because, unless you’re an Oakland Raiders or Houston Texans fan, you’ll more than likely have better things to do then watch this match-up, like…

  • Spend some time with the family.
  • The forecast says snow, so watch it fall.
  • Binge watch a NetFlix original series.
  • Go to Home Depot, and you’ll definitely have time to go to Bed, Bath and Beyond.

But for those that care and for those that can be enticed, let’s break it down…

  • Percentage to win it all.

The Oakland Raiders and Houston Texan each have a 0.8% chance of winning the Super Bowl.

So don’t get too attached.

  • Can the Oakland Raiders defense compensate for their offense?

The biggest question in this game might be how the Oakland Raiders will fare with Conner Cook under center. In week 17, the offense looked disjointed.  The defense was unable to put pressure on Trevor Siemian, recording no sacks, forcing no fumbles and having a single interception.  Although it was one of Denver’s better games, it was one of the worst for the Oakland Raiders, allowing 349 offensive yards and 3 touchdowns.  And come on, guys, we’re talking about Trevor Siemian here, NOT vintage Peyton Manning.

With a weighted defensive efficiency ranking of 21, the Raiders improvements throughout the season cannot go without some recognition.

But, they’ve still performed under expectations.

The Raiders are the 26th overall defense in the league, allowing 375.1 total yards per game.  They’ve allowed 24.1 points per game, are 24th defending the pass, allowing 257.5 passing yards per game and 23rd defending the run, allowing 117.6 rush yards per game.

With a rookie quarterback, Cook, having his first NFL start EVER in the wild card playoffs, the Raiders defense will need to find their rhythm and step-up for the offensive deficit. And, it shouldn’t be too difficult with Brock Osweiler behind center.  A flustered Osweiler is the key to victory for the Raiders.

Defensive end, Khalil Mack, leads the Raiders defense with 11 sacks, an interception, 5 forced fumbles and the teams only defensive touchdown. He’ll need to lead this Raiders defense to work that much harder to compensate for the lack of offense.  The Raiders might have the lowest sack total in the league, 25.  But, the Raiders are 2nd in forced fumbles, 21.  With line-backer, Bruce Irvin, leading the league with 6 forced fumbles, and having 7 sacks.  In the pass game, the Raiders have the 9th most interceptions, 16, with safety Reggie Nelson having 5 interceptions in the season.

For this reason, this Raiders defense will be an interesting match-up against the Houston offense, who has an offensive efficiency rank of 30 (who are ranked just better than the New York Jets and the L.A. Rams).

  • Can the Raider defense stop C.J. Fiedorowicz?

C.J. Fiedorowicz stats might not seem like much (54 catches, 559 yards, 4 touchdowns), but he’s a big target, has a knack for finding open space in the middle of the field and is Osweiler’s favorite target…that is, when DeAndre Hopkins isn’t available. Fiedorowicz had one of his best games against the Raiders in week 11 catching 6 of 10 targets for 82 yards, and if the Raiders can’t figure out a way to stop him, Fiedorowicz could have another big day.

The Raiders defense have struggled against tight ends this season, giving Fiedorowicz and Karl Joseph opportunity to make big plays.

C.J. Fiedorowicz – Houston Chronicle Photo

  • The Houston Texans defense.

In week 17, the Texans defense allowed division rivals, the Tennessee Titans, to win 24-17. But held Titans back-up quarterback, Matt Cassel, to 150 passing yards, a touchdown, an interception and sacked 4-times; but allowed 103 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.

According to Football Outsiders, the Texans ranked 7th in defensive efficiency (in DVOA), with their defensive efficiency getting worse later in the season.

Regardless, the Texans have a good defense, and it is significantly better than their offense. The Texans have allowed the least amount of total yards per game, 301.3, this season, are 2nd overall in defending the pass, allowing just 201.6 yards per game, and 12th at defending the run, allowing 99.7 yards per game.  However, as good as this is, the Texans are ranked only 26th in the league in total sacks (31), are 22nd in total interceptions (11), 29th in total forced fumbles (8) and have just one defensive touchdown.

Although the Texans managed to win the AFC South, they’re one of the weaker playoff teams.

The Texans defense will be prepared for a run-heavy game, while looking to take advantage of the rookie quarterback’s mistakes as the Raiders try to keep the Texans defense honest with the pass plays and play action. If the defense can stop the Raiders run game, and limit Cook, they should be able to win this wild card game, even if the offense doesn’t come through.

  • Can the Oakland Raiders run on the Houston Texans defense?

With an unknown rookie quarterback to start, the Raiders will need to rely heavily on their run game. The Raiders are 6th in the NFL with 1922 total rush yards, averaging 120.1 offensive rushing yards per game, and 17 touchdowns.  And, the Raiders number one running back, Latavius Murray, is responsible for 788 rush yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.  With one of the best offensive lines in the NFL this season, and the best in pass protection, success in the Raiders running game comes from stacking their offensive line, opening run lanes and providing opportunities.

Of course, when these two teams met in week 11 in Mexico City, the Raiders had 20 carries for 30 net yards, unable to get past Texans tackle, Vince Wilfork, and was stuffed repeatedly by defensive end, Jadaveon Clowney. In week 11, Latavius Murray’s longest carry was for 6-yards, and on 12 carries he totaled only 33 yards.

Since relying on Cook is probably not an option, hopefully, the Raiders have learned from their week 11 mistakes, and use DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard and Latavius Murray appropriately to move the offense downfield.

  • The Oakland Raiders pass game.

The Raiders offensive line allowed sacks on just 2.9% of drop backs, best in the NFL (the NFL average is 5.6%).

With such a strong offensive line, Cook should have ample time and protection to get the ball out of his hands. It is possible that Cook can surprise us all and lead the Raiders to a wild card victory over the air, but realistically, if the Raiders want to win, the rest of the team will need make up for his lack of experience in the NFL.  That means blockers holding the pocket, receivers making plays and avoiding drops, as well as playing defensively to avoid interceptions on inaccurately thrown balls by Cook.

It won’t be easy with the Raiders also losing their starting left tackle, Donald Penn.


The two teams aren’t strangers. The Texans will be facing an Oakland offensive line that’s allowed only 18 sacks this season.  Luckily for Cook, the Raiders have one of the best wide receiving cores with Amari Cooper, Micheal Crabtree and Seth Roberts.

  • The return of Houston Texans running back, Lamar Miller.

The Texans are also looking at the return of running back, Lamar Miller, who’d miss the last two games with an ankle injury.   Miller has been the backbone of this mediocre offense with 1073 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns.

  • Brock Osweiler #1?

I’d never thought I’d say these words, but Osweiler looks to be the best quarterback in this game, giving the Texans an advantage on Saturday. Osweiler hasn’t been all bad this season, having a handful of successful games.  Osweiler has 2957 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.  Yeah, it’s a problem when your quarterback threw for more interceptions than touchdowns.  And, he’s still considered the best option.  But, Saturday’s wild card playoff will be a platform for Osweiler to show his value to the team.  In week 17, he entered the game after Tom Savage left with a concussion.  Osweiler completing 21 out of 40 passes, throwing for 253 yards, having a touchdown and no interceptions, padding his mediocre states and trying to improve his quarterback ranking.

What can we expect in the Wild Card Playoffs?

  • A defensive touchdown.
  • Seth Roberts touchdown.
  • C.J. Fiedorowicz touchdown.

The Houston Texans win.

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