On one side, you’ve got a recently-benched, overpaid, and unmercifully booed quarterback. On the other, you’ve got an untested third-string rookie. When the Texans host the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Wild Card on Saturday afternoon, get ready for one truly goofy NFL playoff game.
How’d we get here? Those pesky Texans squeaked into the postseason after all, winning nine games and the mediocre AFC South on a tiebreaker. But on the way to their division crown, they also lost the services of quarterback Tom Savage, who suffered an especially ill-timed concussion after demonstrating some of the poise and aggressiveness under center they’d been searching for all season. So back to Brock Osweiler they’ll go, which is not an especially encouraging development: in the four games before he lost his starting job, Osweiler completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes for just 643 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions.
Somehow, it could be worse! Oakland’s stud Derek Carr broke his leg on Christmas Eve, and his backup Matt McGloin busted his own shoulder in their regular season finale. What followed was “teamwide malfunction.” That means fourth-round pick Connor Cook will suit up on Saturday, becoming the first rookie in over 50 years to make his first career start in the playoffs. Vegas is actually listing Houston, one of the least efficient playoff teams in league history, as a four-point favorite over its 12-4 opponent. Will Brinson calls it “beautiful in a horrifying way.”
Here are a few things for Texans fans to watch for this weekend:
Feed Lamar: Running back Lamar Miller will start after two weeks on the pine with a bum ankle. He should get the ball early and often. The fifth-year man is no world-beater, but he’s steady, and he can take pressure off his embattled teammate in the backfield. Plus, Oakland ranked just 18th in rushing defense this season, so there should be room in which to operate. “If Miller runs for 125 yards,” writes Will Leitch, “it will be about 50 yards more than anybody else in this game gains doing anything.”
Stop the Run: With an inexperienced signal caller on the other side of the ball, the Texans’ defense will load up the box and try to stuff the Raiders’ running attack, just as they did in their Week Nine contest in Mexico City (30 yards). Says linebacker Brian Cushing: "They'll try to establish the run, and that's something we can't let them do." Dare Cook to withstand your stout pass rush and beat you through the air.
Don’t Panic: You’re the favorites, playing at home! You’ve got this! The Texans should forget about their future salary cap issues, or the Osweiler saga, or the severe improbability they’ll advance to the Houston-hosted Super Bowl even if they beat Oakland (one-in-50 odds). Enjoy the moment. Have some fun. Just win, baby.