Sunday AFC Playoff Picks: Ravens look to win sixth straight over Texans

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, 1/15/12, 1:00 PM EST, TV:  CBS
Opening Point Spread:  Baltimore -7.5
Current Betting Line:  Baltimore -7.5
Opening Total:  38
Current Total:  36.5
Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker

Texans Ravens AFC Playoff Preview
The Ravens were 11-0 during the regular season when RB Ray Rice carried the ball 18 times or more.

The Baltimore Ravens will be hosting their first playoff game since 2007 when the Houston Texans visit M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.  The second-seeded Ravens (12-4) have never lost to the Texans (11-6) and beat them 29-14 at home in Week 6 as 7-point favorites.

Baltimore (-7.5, O/U 36.5) needed a 24-16 road win against the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular-season finale to clinch the AFC North, edging the Pittsburgh Steelers for the division title.  The Ravens won the tiebreaker with the Steelers after sweeping the season series and made that a huge priority since they have played their last seven postseason games on the road.  They went 4-3 in those games but lost at Pittsburgh in the playoffs two of the past three years.

Led by Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, Baltimore was 11-0 when he carried the ball at least 18 times.  Rice rushed for 1,364 yards and also caught 76 passes for 704 yards with 15 touchdowns overall.  His emergence this year as one of the top backs in the NFL helped take some pressure off of fourth-year quarterback Joe Flacco, who regressed a bit after throwing for more than 20 touchdowns in each of his previous two seasons.

Flacco tied a career high with 12 interceptions and threw 20 touchdowns while completing a career-low 57.6 percent of his passes.  He has taken a lot of criticism for playing either very well or very poorly in games this year but is the only QB in league history to make the postseason in each of his first four seasons.

Meanwhile, Houston is coming off a 31-10 rout of Cincinnati at home last Saturday in the Wild Card round as the team won its first-ever playoff game.  The Texans took advantage of Peyton Manning’s absence for the Indianapolis Colts by winning the AFC South for the first time in franchise history.  They are also led by one of the top backs in Arian Foster, who had a game-high 153 yards rushing on 24 carries against the Bengals last week and scored two touchdowns.

Like Rice, Foster has helped relieve the stress on his QB T.J. Yates, who is a rookie filling in for injured starter Matt Schaub (broken foot).  Yates is 3-3 in his six starts and took over under center when backup Matt Leinart broke his collarbone in a 20-13 victory at Jacksonville in Week 12.

Schaub played in the first meeting with the Ravens, throwing for 220 yards and one touchdown while Foster and Ben Tate were limited to 90 yards on 24 carries.  Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson sat out that game with a hamstring injury, one of 10 he missed during the regular season.  Johnson has played two games with Yates, totaling nine catches for 187 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown last week against Cincinnati.

The Texans are 1-4 against the spread in their five losses to Baltimore, averaging 17.8 points per game.  They scored more than 19 points just once while the Ravens have averaged nearly 35 points in the past three meetings.

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