After a much-needed bye week, the Ravens begin Phase Two of their quest for a Super Bowl title. This afternoon, they host the surprising Houston Texans, who overcame season-ending injuries to a couple of noteworthy players to win the AFC South and then advance to the AFC's divisional round. The Ravens are experienced and confident, but they would be wise to not overlook the 11-6 Texans.
Here are five storylines to watch today at The Bank with a spot in the AFC title game up for grabs:
1. Joe Flacco's time to shine: Flacco feels a bit underappreciated here despite all the wins he piled up in his first four seasons, but he also knows that legacies are chiseled in the postseason. He has a 4-3 record in the playoffs in his career. Flacco needs to take the Ravens to the Super Bowl, though, to get the respect that he craves -- and the contract extension he is asking for, too. He has learned from past playoff failures and he might be on the verge of a big breakthrough, but he's going to need help from his wide receivers. That group struggled when Anquan Boldin was sidelined Weeks 16 and 17.
2. The pass rush must sizzle: The Ravens were one of the NFL's best at bringing down opposing QBs, but in their four losses, they totaled just five sacks combined. If the Ravens want to kiss the Lombardi Trophy, Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs and the team's other pass rushers need to hit home in the playoffs. Doing it against rookie (and third-string) Texans quarterback T.J. Yates would be a nice start.
3. The battle of the backs: Ray Rice of the Ravens and Arian Foster of the Texans are two of the best running backs in the NFL. Both finished in the top five in rushing yards this season, and each is one of the league's leading receivers out of the backfield. Obviously, they won't face each other Sunday, but each is going up against a stout run defense. If one can top 100 rushing yards, his team should win.
4. Don't sleep on Houston's D: Maybe I'm just saying this because I wrote Saturday's story about the NFL's No. 2 defense, but they rank among the league's best in most major categories. And if you saw Houston's wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals, you know the stats don't lie. The Texans buried quarterback Andy Dalton and forced him into three interceptions -- one of which was spectacularly returned for a touchdown by rookie defensive end J.J. Watt. If the Texans can get pressure on Flacco early and knock the Ravens offense out of rhythm, they will have a shot at pulling off the upset.
5. Cam under fire: And if the Ravens offense sputters in a loss, Cam Cameron might be out of a job.