Every NFL postseason needs the game to remind us that the playoffs, while obviously important, are still just the same teams we've been watching all year. There hasn't been a single moment in 2016 when you thought, "man, look out for these Texans," but here they are, hosting a playoff game.
Meanwhile, the Raiders were one of the most exciting teams in the NFL until everything imploded on them with the crushing injury to Derek Carr. Now, you have a possibly dull Saturday afternoon game, the one it's OK not to show up at the bar until halftime (there will still be seats). Still, it's worth breaking down, since there are some intriguing elements ... including the return of Brock Osweiler!
No. 5 Oakland Raiders (12-4) at No. 4 Houston Texans (9-7)
When: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, ESPN
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Most recent meeting: Nov. 21: Raiders 27, Texans 20. David Carr threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns in Mexico City, and this game feels like it took place 30 years ago.
Simple Rating System numbers: Oakland 3.3, Houston 0.4
Current line: Texans by 2 1/2.
Ranking among the four first-round matchups: Fourth. There might have been more interest if Carr had not gotten hurt. But now? Yikes.
How the Raiders can win
1. They figure out some sense of what they want to do. The loss of Carr was such a visceral shock for the Raiders that they have sort of been staggering around since. Think of them as the soldier in "Saving Private Ryan" carrying his arm, confused, staggered, destroyed. Against Denver, they, for some reason, acted like they still had Carr behind center, throwing the ball around the field and never establishing a run game. Derek Carr is not walking through that door. He's gone. It's time to shake if off and see what's left.
2. Don't worry so much about who the quarterback is. Will Connor Cook -- the first Super Bowl-era QB to make his first career start in a playoff game -- be a revelation? Probably not. Give the ball for Latavaius Murray, who only had five freaking carries last week. Run Amari Cooper on some reverses, or set up something goofy for him. Keep the score close and the points down, and just wait for the other team to screw up. Because the Texans have some quarterback issues of their own.
3. Blitz like monsters. The problem with Osweiler, now that all has been revealed, is not that he doesn't have a big arm, or not even that he can't be (sorta kinda) accurate when he has time. The problem is that he freaks out under even the slightest pressure. (This is something the Texans should have known.) So go after him. Every play. The Texans don't have anyone that can scare you at the skill positions, not really, which means you can just pin your ears back. The goal should be to see Brandon Weeden at least once this game.
How the Texans can win
1. Don't panic, even if there is good reason to. Houston has a lot at stake here. For crying out loud, coach Bill O'Brien is on the hot seat even though he has won his division two straight years. Why? Because last year's playoff game was so bad, fans probably wish they had never played in it at all, and this year's team was hardly inspiring, especially when J.J. Watt went down with a season-ending injury. If the Raiders lose, no one will blame the coaches or the players: They lost Carr, it's a real bummer. But if the Texans lose in ugly fashion again, people will start to wonder what the point of all this is. The Texans have a huge weight on their shoulders coming into this one. They must not play like it.
2. Just floor it with Osweiler at this point. With Tom Savage potentially still out because of his concussion, it's not like there are any other quarterbacks the Texans can go get now. This is their guy, like it or not. So steer into the skid! Would they bench Osweiler for, say, McGloin or Cook? Probably not, right? OK, so then: Texans have an advantage at the most important spot on the field! No use messing with Osweiler's head anymore. He's your guy. Hopefully letting him know this will give him a little more confidence. Maybe?
3. Unleash Lamar. If you can limit Osweiler's mistakes, you can probably count on the Raiders' quarterback(s) to make some. So give the ball to Lamar Miller and give it to him again and again. This is Miller's fifth year in the league, and this is his first playoff game. He's been waiting for this for a long, long time. Let the man eat. If he runs for 125 yards, it will be about 50 yards more than anybody else in this game gains doing anything. He's the best offensive player out on the field other than maybe Cooper, who cannot throw to himself. So let him show off.
It couldn't have set up more perfectly for Houston. Heck, they'd be worse off playing Miami. Landing in the fourth spot right when Oakland is falling apart without their leader is kismet: They couldn't have planned it better. There's still a gaping psychic wound where the Raiders' heart used to be, and they have shown no signs of being able to recover. If Houston can't win this playoff game, maybe they should clean house: They'll have no better opportunity than this one.
Texans 17, Raiders 6.