John Harbaugh's reigning Ravens are having a rougher time staying atop the AFC, as they need to work to rediscover an offensive rhythm (with Anquan Boldin gone, Dennis Pitta injured and Ray Rice hurting) and still waiting for wholesale changes to jell on defense.
That's not that best state in which to face the 2-0 Texans, who are itching to put a team away earlier by putting together a complete performance. Inspired by the expected debut of long-time Ravens safety Ed Reed, the Texans come in as the better overall team ready to rattle a good home team. Texans 23, Ravens 20.
* On the other hand, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco expects the Ravens to win.
The Texans embarrassed the Ravens last year in the regular season. But that was at Houston. Now the Ravens get their chance at home. The Ravens have struggled up front, which isn't a good thing against J.J. Watt and his mates. But I think they get it righted some here.
* Only three of the 13 "experts" on ESPN.com believe the Ravens will beat the Texans. Mike Golic, Chris Mortensen and Seth Wickersham pick the Ravens, while everyone else takes Houston.
* Don Banks of SI.com also picks the Ravens to edge the Texans, 27-24.
The Texans are walking a tight rope that's not sustainable, becoming the first team since the 1970 merger to open the season with consecutive wins on the final play of the game. Beating San Diego and Tennessee that way is impressive enough, but the Baltimore home-field advantage is something not to be trifled with. The Ravens haven't put four good quarters together yet, but doing things the hard way is just their style. It would seem old friend Ed Reed (hip) is preparing to finally make his Texans debut this week, just in time for the trip to Charm City and the ceremony that will induct ex-teammate Ray Lewis into the Ravens' Ring of Honor.
* Five of the eight NFL analysts on CBSSports.com choose the Ravens, including the aforementioned Prisco and Jason La Canfora.
* ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio and Michael David Smith disagree on Sunday's game -- Florio expects the Ravens to edge the Texans, while Smith likes Houston.
MDS’s take: The defending Super Bowl champions just haven’t looked particularly good on either side of the ball this season, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. J.J. Watt is going to make life miserable for Joe Flacco as Houston wins a low-scoring game.
MDS’s pick: Texans 17, Ravens 9.
Florio’s take: Both teams are banged up a bit, and each has struggled. Give the home team the edge — even though Ed Reed could end up making the difference for Houston.
Florio’s pick: Ravens 24, Texans 21.
* NFL.com's Elliot Harrison predicts a one-point victory for the Ravens.
The Houston Texans will fall short on Sunday. It might seem odd to predict such an outcome, knowing that the Baltimore Ravens got their butts handed to them, to the tune of a 43-13 loss, in Texas last year. This matchup, however, is in Baltimore, which means the Texans can ill-afford to sleepwalk through portions of it, as they did in their first two contests of the season. Ray Rice is taking it easy this week, though he'll probably play against the Texans. That will be a big factor when it comes to determining the outcome, though not as big as this one: How uncomfortable can the Ravens' defense make life for Matt Schaub, who has been sacked just four times thus far? The guess here is that Schaub will go down four more times on Sunday alone, as the Ravens already have eight sacks on the season. Houston running back Arian Foster faces a defense that has allowed 65 yards per game and 3 yards per carry. Elsewhere on offense, receiver Andre Johnson, who is recovering from a concussion, will need to be on his "A" game.
These teams are built in the same mold: overpowering defense and some superstars on offense. Joe Flacco got back on track with the birth of his second child and a win last Sunday, but Ray Rice has a hip injury so Bernard Pierce will be running for the Ravens. Young WR Marlon Brown will continue his promising learning curve as he attempts to replace Jacoby Jones.
The Texans have had to stage late comebacks both weeks to get to 2-0. And Andre Johnson has a concussion so Matt Schaub will have a young wideout of his own to play with: Week 2 hero, DeAndre Hopkins.
Though the Texans have the better record, they need to prove that they can consistently defend the best QB's in the game--on the road.
Straight Up: Baltimore; Against the Spread: Baltimore +2.5
* Only one of USA Today's seven analysts -- Jarrett Bell -- takes the Ravens to win their second game at M&T Bank Stadium in as many weeks.
* Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab and Les Carpenter both expect the Ravens to lose at home.
* From NFL.com's Around the League staff, only Dan Hanzus predicts a victory for the Ravens.
* The two analysts on Showtime's Inside the NFL are split -- Phil Simms picks the Texans, while Cris Collinsworth takes the Ravens.
* Former professional wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts picks the Ravens against the 2 1/2-point spread, but CBSSports.com fantasy football reporter Dave Richard takes the Texans.