The writer for ESPN’s AFC North blog believes that the Ravens have a solid path to the Super Bowl. Ignoring the fact that they’ll either have to play the Patriots or an angry Tebow who has just defeated the Patriots before they play the NFC champ, the Ravens will have to play the Texans. What kind of Texans team will they get?
Matt Schaub was the quarterback for the first 10 games of Houston’s year. In that time they were 7-3 with losses to New Orleans (on the road), Oakland, and Baltimore (on the road). They also had a win over Pittsburgh and a big win on the road against Tennessee, who was a borderline playoff team. The Texans looked solid on the face of things, but their stats told a different story. In my power rankings after beating Tampa, I had the Texans as the second-best team in the league, a little bit above the Patriots and Saints. I wasn’t the only one; Advanced NFL Stats had them at number 1. The Texans were doing it on both sides of the ball; ANFLS had them at 3rd on both offense and defense and I had them at 4/6. But when Schaub was injured, projections for the Texans fell dramatically. That ANFLS post said that with their 7 wins in the bag, they ‘may still be able to sneak into the playoffs’.
What happened after that? In week 12 the Texans traveled to Jacksonville, where Matt Leinart broke his collarbone and was lost for the season. The line in that game was for the Texans to win by 7, I projected them to win by 8 (and remember, my model doesn’t know that Schaub was injured), and they won by 7. So no harm there. The next week they played Atlanta at home. Things looked less rosy; the line was for the Texans to lose by 1.5, although my projection said they would win by 5. They won by a touchdown. In week 14 they traveled to Cincinnati to play their second (future) playoff team in two weeks. The Bengals were favored by 3, I had the Texans winning by about 3, and Houston won by a point on the final play of the game. That win wrapped up a playoff berth for the Texans, who were supposed to be crippled and lucky to make the playoffs at all.
Things did finally go downhill after week 14. Despite being a six point favorite (5 according to Luigi), the Texans lost by 15 to the Panthers at home. They gave the Colts their second win of the season in week 16 by losing by 3 in a game they were favored to win by 6 (8 by my model). And in week 17 they lost to the Titans with Jake Delhomme under center most of the day when they failed to convert a last-minute two point conversion. They could have played for overtime, but there was no reason to as far as they were concerned. Luigi had the Texans favored by 5 in that game but the line was for them to lose by 1.5, probably because it was known that the Texans would be resting more players.
So to recap: after losing Matt Schaub the Texans went 3 and 3, with a 2-0 mark against playoff teams and a 1-3 mark against other teams. That includes a loss in week 17 that they didn’t need (with their 5th string QB) and Andre Johnson missing essentially all of the last four games. My model said that they should have won those six games by a total of 34 points; the Vegas line said they should have won by 15; they actually lost by a total of 10. By the end of the regular season, the Texans were second according to ANFLS, having dropped to 7th on offense but improved to 2nd on defense, and were 5th in my rankings at 10th on offense and 4th on defense. The Texans have definitely regressed a bit and underperformed after Schaub went out, but they still aren’t exactly slouches.
Moving to the playoffs, the Texans hosted the Bengals. As noted above, they beat the Bengals with Yates at QB earlier in the season. It was only by a point, but they were on the road and expected to lose. This time they were at home and expected to win by about 3 (5 according to Luigi). This was true in the ANFLS projection even if you put in Yates’ numbers instead of using their season-long data that includes Schaub. As you probably know, they won by 21.
So what should we expect when they play the Ravens? I have the Texans as a little better than the Ravens; the Ravens have a better defense but the Texans have a better offense. But the Ravens will be at home, where they beat the Texans by 15 back in week 6. Perhaps it’s notable that the Texans were missing Andre Johnson and their fullback, James Casey, in that game. With all of that in mind, the Ravens are currently favored by at least a touchdown (9 in some places). I have the game as more of a toss-up; the Texans are coin-flip favorites by win probability and the Ravens are about a point favorite by point differential. If you believe that the Texans have been underperforming since Yates took over, maybe you want to spot the Ravens another 4 to 7 points, depending on if you like the Vegas or Luigi projections. That would indeed make the Ravens solid favorites over the even game I see. But the Texans haven’t been terrible; I wouldn’t give the Ravens a Super Bowl berth just yet.