The Ravens host the Houston Texans on Sunday in another clash between the two perennial AFC powerhouses. The Ravens had dominated the budding rivalry, but the Texans beat them for the first time last year, blowing them out by 30 points. The Ravens have a score to settle, and I think they will. Here are four predictions that might have to go to right for them to pull off the minor upset.
1. BERNARD PIERCE WILL RUSH FOR 100 YARDS:
Ray Rice did not practice at all this week after leaving last weekend's win with a hip injury. His status for Sunday is not looking good, but even if Rice plays, you have to figure that Bernard Pierce will receive the majority of the carries. Pierce has rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries this season, averaging a pedestrian 2.8 yards per carry. Rice hasn't fared much better, averaging 2.9. But even though the Ravens will be going up against one of the NFL's better run defenses, I expect Pierce to have a big game. He wants to prove he is capable of starting and starring in this league. This would be his biggest opportunity to date.
2. THE RAVENS WILL SHUT OUT J.J. WATT AGAIN:
Watt, Houston's star defensive end, was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year last season after recording 20.5 sacks. He had at least a half sack in 12 of his 16 regular-season games, but the Ravens were one of the few teams who didn't allow him to get to their quarterback. Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda had a lot to do with that, stalemating with Watt on most plays. The Texans may move Watt around more this time to try to find a favorable matchup. But I think Yanda and company will keep Watt off Joe Flacco's back.
3. HOUSTON'S TIGHT ENDS WILL DO DAMAGE:
The Baltimore defense often lost track of opposing tight ends in the first two weeks of the season, allowing Denver's Julius Thomas and Cleveland's Jordan Cameron to combine for 10 catches for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Houston is another team that likes to throw to the tight end. Quarterback Matt Schaub has targeted Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham 21 times and the two tight ends have combined for 14 catches for 148 yards and five touchdowns. They might not pile up big yardage totals like Thomas and Cameron have done against the Ravens, but don't be surprised if the two of them score at least one touchdown Sunday.
4. THE RAVENS WILL FINALLY CORRAL ARIAN FOSTER:
The Ravens have faced Foster four times, including playoffs, and he has recorded at least 100 yards from scrimmage every time. That will change this weekend. The Ravens have allowed just 65 yards per game this season and Foster has been splitting carries with his talented backup, Ben Tate. Foster will have some success, but the Ravens will limit the damage done by the Pro Bowl back, holding him under the century mark.