The Houston Texans have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2024 NFL Playoffs so far. Led by rookie quarterback CJ Stroud, the Texans took down the Tennessee Titans on Wild Card weekend to set up a date with the AFC’s #1 seed, Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. This divisional round clash has all the makings of being an instant classic.
Stroud Building Strong Case for Rookie of the Year Honors
Stroud has been phenomenal in his first NFL season . The young quarterback finished the regular season with over 4,000 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. His potent connection with rookie wide receiver Jayden Reed was on full display against the Titans, as the duo hooked up for 3 touchdowns.
The Texans rookie signal-caller will face his biggest test yet on Saturday night in one of the league’s most intimidating road environments. However, Stroud has shown incredible poise this season, especially for such a young player . If he is unfazed by the hostile Baltimore crowd and can stretch the Ravens defense vertically with Reed and Nico Collins, the Texans will remain in this game until the end.
|CJ Stroud 2024 Stats
Stroud keeping his composure and protecting the football will be paramount if Houston wants to pull off the upset. The Ravens defense feasts on mistakes, forcing a league-best 33 turnovers in the regular season . Stroud must continue to play smart, efficient football for the Texans to have a chance.
Texans Riding Momentum From Wild Card Upset
Very few people gave Houston much of a chance heading into last week’s Wild Card showdown with Mike Vrabel’s Titans. However, the Texans played inspired football en route to a shocking 24-17 victory .
Rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans had his team ready to play, and they brought an aggressive gameplan aimed at stopping Titans RB Derrick Henry. Mission accomplished there, as Henry was held to just 69 rushing yards on 18 attempts. The Houston defense also forced Ryan Tannehill into a pair of interceptions.
On offense, Stroud was surgical. The young signal-caller efficiently picked apart the Tennessee secondary, spraying the ball around to 8 different pass catchers. His main target was Jayden Reed, who hauled in 5 catches for 96 yards and 3 scores.
That combination of opportunistic defense and efficient offense is Houston’s only recipe for success against this loaded Ravens group. Forcing Lamar Jackson into rare mistakes will be paramount on Saturday night.
All Eyes on Lamar Heading Into Rematch
Lamar Jackson comes into this divisional round clash as the newly crowned 2023 NFL MVP. Jackson became just the 8th unanimous MVP in league history after a spectacular individual season . He led the NFL with 5,100+ total yards and 45 total touchdowns during Baltimore’s league-best 14-3 campaign.
Jackson piloted the Ravens to blowout wins all season long, including a dominating 33-16 week 1 beatdown of these very Texans . In that opener, the Ravens gashed Houston for 378 yards on the ground behind Jackson’s incredible dual-threat ability.
However, Houston’s defense has improved leaps and bounds since that week 1 throttling . Rookies Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre have developed into true lockdown defenders in the secondary. Meanwhile, veteran linebacker Roquan Smith has solidified the middle of the defense since being acquired via trade from Chicago.
The Texans are playing with much more discipline and aggression then they showed earlier in the year. Containing Jackson will still be asking a lot, but this Houston defense is certainly up for the challenge. They must force Baltimore into unfavorable third down situations and get after Jackson with a variety of blitz looks. The former MVP still has a tendency to take costly sacks at times, so Houston needs to stay aggressive while maintaining gap integrity against the diverse Ravens run schemes.
Home-Field Advantage Crucial for Baltimore
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens come into this showdown well rested after earning a first-round bye. Home-field advantage has been absolutely crucial for Baltimore this season, as they posted an AFC best 9-1 record at M&T Bank Stadium . The home crowd in Baltimore is one of the loudest and most intimidating in all of football. Texans rookie CJ Stroud will almost certainly face noise issues early on in this matchup. Establishing the run early will be crucial for Houston to try and quiet down that rambunctious crowd.
The Saturday forecast also favors the home-standing Ravens. Current weather projections call for temperatures in the mid-20s in Baltimore, with 15+ mph winds expected throughout the game . Jackson and the Ravens play in poor weather routinely and should be well adjusted. This bitter cold could hamper Stroud’s ability to throw vertically to Houston’s talented receivers. The Texans must lean on rookie RB Dameon Pierce early and try to adapt to the inclement conditions.
Overall, everything sets up perfectly for Baltimore here. They are healthy, well-rested, playing at home with the weather on their side. However, Houston counters with sky-high confidence and a red-hot rookie quarterback who has shown no fear. This should make for an instant classic divisional round showdown on Saturday night with a trip to the AFC Championship Game on the line. Get your popcorn ready!
Additional Storylines to Monitor
- Can the Ravens avoid looking ahead to a potential marquee matchup with either Buffalo or Kansas City in the AFC title game? 
- How will the Lamar Jackson vs CJ Stroud quarterback battle shape up? Rookie vs MVP. 
- Will inclement weather slow down Houston’s explosive passing game? 
- Which role players could emerge as X-factors? Isaiah Likely for Baltimore? Nico Collins for Houston? 
This matchup seems to set up perfectly for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to take care of business at home and advance to their 4th AFC Championship Game appearance under John Harbaugh. The crowd noise and inclement weather should hinder the Texans, while Jackson and Co. feel right at home playing bully ball in the cold. Ravens 34, Texans 24. Houston puts up a good fight but the Baltimore rushing attack ultimately wears them down late with multiple long TD drives.
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