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AFC Divisional-Round Preview: Houston Texans vs. Baltimore Ravens

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(Credits: Dylan Slagle/The Carroll County Times)

The divisional-round of the NFL playoffs will make a stop in Charm City on Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens host the  Houston Texans.

Sunday marks the first home playoff game in the John Harbaugh era. Harbaugh helped guide the Ravens to a wild-card berth in each of his first three seasons as the team’s head coach.

While the Ravens don’t have home-field advantage for the entire AFC postseason unless the New England Patriots lose Saturday to the Denver Broncos, it’s an ideal place for the Ravens to be considering they won all eight of their games at the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium this  season.

The Texans, who lost to the Ravens in week six, 29-14, were much healthier at that point in the season than they have been in some time. However, Houston has dealt with their injuries extremely well, as they captured their first ever AFC South division crown, and last week in their postseason debut they routed the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-10.

This game pits the number-two ranked Texans defense against the number-three ranked Ravens defense, which is noteworthy for the Texans because last year they finished 30th in total defense.

(Credits: Dylan Slagle/The Carroll County Times)

As for the offenses, the Ravens’ 13th-ranked offense is two spots behind the Texans’ 11th-ranked offense, though Baltimore improved seven spots from the 2010 season.

But just as Baltimore’s opportunistic defense has known for year’s, Houston discovered with outside linebacker J.J. Watts’ interception return for a touchdown in Saturday’s wild-card win against the Bengals, one play can change the entire complexion of a game.

The constant’s for both teams has been the running game.

Since Houston starting quarterback Matt Schaub went down for the season in week 10 with a leg injury, the Texans have leaned on the legs of running back Arian Foster to carry them.

Houston’s offensive philosophy has changed to more a conservative approach to protect third-string, fifth-round rookie draft choice, T.J. Yates.

After throwing an average of 29 times per game with Schaub at the helm, the Texans have averaged just 22 passes per game since Yates has taken the reigns. Foster has benefited the most from that, as he came on strong to the end the regular season, finishing with 1,224 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Last week, Foster carried the rock 24 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns.

For the Ravens, running back Ray Rice set career-highs in both rushing yards (1,364) and receiving yards (704). His 15 touchdowns were also a career-best and broke former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis’ mark of 14 set in 2003.

The Texans– like the Ravens– have a very stout run defense. For the season, Houston ranked fourth against the run, yielding just 96 yards per game, but in the first meeting between the two team’s, Rice rushed for a 101 yards on 23 carries and also added five receptions for 60 yards.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. with Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf getting the call for CBS.