Two of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks will go head-to-head this Sunday. Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans (6-3, first in AFC South) will visit Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens (7-2, first in AFC North) in this highly-anticipated conference showdown.
Here is a preview for Sunday afternoon’s game, along with odds and a free pick.
By the Numbers
With two quarterbacks who are among the best in the league, it’s no surprise that these are two of the most lethal offenses around. We’ll start with Houston, which is fourth in the NFL in both rushing yards (142.8) and total yards (396.7). The Texans are also eighth in points per game with 26.4.
But Baltimore has been the best overall offense in the league, averaging a league-high 33.3 points per game and 197.2 rushing yards. The Ravens are also second with 421.7 total yards per game.
On defense, both clubs are fairly equal, albeit in the middle of the pack. Houston allows 21.2 points per game, 15th in the NFL, while Baltimore ranks 13th with 21. They’re also top 10 against the run, but in the bottom-third against the pass, especially the Texans, who have the fourth-most passing yards allowed per game (277.3).
Watson vs. Jackson. On Oct. 1, 2016, Watson and the Clemson Tigers narrowly defeated Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals 42-36. Watson threw for five touchdowns and also ran for close to 100 yards, while Jackson threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more on 162 yards rushing. That is the last time these QBs went head-to-head, and it’s a serious indication of what we may be in store for on Sunday. The winner of this game may simply just come down to what QB has the better game.
How well will Baltimore run? The Ravens run better than any other team in the NFL, led by Jackson and running back Mark Ingram. But the Texans are up for the challenge. Houston has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the last two seasons, something the Ravens have done six different times this year with their runners. Expect the Ravens to come up with creative packages to free up running lanes for Jackson and Ingram, while the Texans will attempt to force the Ravens to throw as often as possible.
Hopkins vs. Peters. It’s no secret that Watson’s go-to receiver is DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has eight or more catches in four straight games and at least five catches in 12 straight games. He’ll be closely watched by cornerback Marcus Peters. Peters was acquired from the Rams on Oct. 15 and already has a couple of interceptions that he returned for big gains. While Hopkins will still likely get a handful of receptions, Peters will try to prevent him from being a game-changer.
The Texans have no one officially ruled out, but several questionable players. Mainly, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Will Fuller V, each of whom was limited in practice all week. Defensive backs Bradley Roby and Tashaun Gipson Sr. are also questionable.
The Ravens are a little lighter on the injury report, with defensive tackle Michael Pierce the only one likely to miss Sunday’s game. Wide receivers Marquise Brown and Chris Moore are the only other players listed on the injury report, as both are considered questionable.
Odds and Pick
The Ravens are favorites in what is expected to be the highest-scoring game on the Sunday slate, listed at -4.5. These teams are statistically very close, with similar strengths and weaknesses. I believe ultimately that the Ravens will do just enough to win. I like Watson keeping it close and perhaps even mounting a late-game comeback, but I think Jackson can expose Houston’s bad pass defense that is dealing with some injuries. So give me the Texans +4.5, but the Ravens to win by a field goal.