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Oakland Raiders vs Houston Texans: prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange  
Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) is mobbed in the stands after intercepting a pass by Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton and scoring in the second quarter at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California, on November 27, 2016. The Raiders defeated the Panthers 35-32. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
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KICKOFF: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, NRG Stadium. TV: ESPN.
SERIES HISTORY: First playoff meeting. Texans lead regular-season series 6-4. Raiders won 27-20 on Nov. 21 in Mexico City, as quarterback Derek Carr completed 21 of 31 passes for 295 yards. Trailing 20-13 early in the fourth quarter, Carr threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Jamize Olawale and a 35-yard strike to Amari Cooper for the win. The Raiders have won the last two regular-season meetings in Houston, 28-23 in 2013 behind three touchdown passes from Matt McGloin and 25-20 in 2011 the day after Raiders owner Al Davis died. Houston beat the Raiders 30-14 in Oakland in 2014.
GAMEDATE: 1/7/17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Biggest hype for this game will be focused on the quarterback duel. Raiders rookie Connor Cook will be the first QB in the Super Bowl era to debut in a playoff game. The Texans counter with expensive, but disappointing, free-agent acquisition Brock Osweiler, who is returning to duty only because the man who took his job, Tom Savage, was concussed last week.
Cook is on the spot after Raiders MVP candidate Derek Carr broke his leg two weeks ago and journeyman replacement Matt McGloin injured his non-throwing shoulder last week.
The resulting game strategies should be fun to watch. Expect the Texans to unleash their aggressive defensive front, led by Jadeveon Clowney, to harass the rookie QB. But Oakland has an interesting counter with the biggest offensive line in the NFL, including three Pro Bowl blockers.
That could help Cook either hand off to one of three dangerous running backs -- Latavius Murray and rookies Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington -- or throw to 1,000-yard receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.
Adding more intrigue are echoes of scouting reports that state that Cook has a stronger throwing arm than Carr or McGloin. Arm strength doesn't necessarily mean he is the best passer, but he was cool on the big stage at Michigan State (Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl wins) and was not overwhelmed off the bench last week. All that is something for Houston's defense to keep in mind as it tries to harass him.
Meanwhile, there is tension in Houston as Osweiler's key stats are $72 million, $37 million guaranteed, 16 interceptions, 72.2 rating. Coach Bill O'Brien and Osweiler did not deny they had a heated sideline discussion last week. But teammates say Osweiler looked better and played looser after his return from the bench.
The Raiders hope for a heated confrontation on the field as they send their active pass rushers, including Kahlil Mack, to harass Osweiler.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Raiders RT Menelik Watson vs. Texans LDE Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney was virtually unblockable in the Nov. 21 meeting, dominating right tackle Austin Howard and almost personally shutting down the Raiders' running game. In Week 16, the Raiders replaced Howard with Watson, who has won the job each of the last two seasons only to be injured. Watson isn't quite as massive as Howard, but he's more explosive and a better athlete and should be able to give the Raiders a better matchup.
--Texans TE C.J. Fiedorowicz vs. Raiders SS Karl Joseph. Fiedorowicz did what most tight ends have done against the Raiders this season -- get open in the middle of the field. He had 82 receiving yards as Osweiler found him six times, tying his high-reception mark of the season. Joseph, a rookie first-round draft pick, has been out the last four games with turf toe. He'll be forced back into action, with Nate Allen not expected to make it through concussion protocol.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT:
Raiders QB Garrett Gilbert. A practice squad quarterback for the Raiders last season, Gilbert is expected to be placed on the 53-man roster. If Matt McGloin's left shoulder leaves him inactive, Gilbert would be the quarterback should something happen to rookie starter Connor Cook.
FAST FACTS:
-- The Raiders won 12 games for the first time since 2000 and had seven players selected to Pro Bowl.
-- Rookie QB Connor Cook passed 150 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut last week.
-- Raiders RB Latavius Murray ranked fifth in the NFL with 12 TD runs, the most by a Raider since 1990.
-- Oakland RB Jalen Richard ranked fifth among NFL rookies with 491 yards rushing.
-- Oakland WR Amari Cooper is one of three players in NFL history with 70 receptions, 1,000 yards and five TD catches in each of his first two seasons. He ranked third in the AFC with 1,153 yards receiving, the most by a Raider since Jerry Rice (1,211) in 2002.
-- Raiders WR Michael Crabtree led the team with a career-high 89 catches and tied for fourth in the AFC with eight TD catches.
-- Raiders DE Kahlil Mack has 10 sacks, 11 TFL, five forced fumbles, three recoveries and a pick-six in his past 11 games. He leads the NFL with 26 sacks since 2015.
-- The Texans won their second consecutive AFC South title. QB Brock Osweiler is 6-1 as a starter at home.
-- Houston RB Lamar Miller ranked sixth in the AFC with 1,073 rushing yards.
-- Houston WR DeAndre Hopkins led the team with 78 catches and 954 yards.
-- Texans WR/PR Will Fuller was third among NFL rookies with 635 yards receiving.
-- Houston DE Jadaveon Clowney was named to the Pro Bowl after ranking second among AFC ends with 16 tackles for loss. He also had six sacks.
PREDICTION:
The day after iconic owner Al Davis died in 2011, it was on this field that the Raiders made a goal-line stand to preserve a win, with only 10 defenders on the field, not counting Al's presence, as Raiders' lore recalls. Now, in the Raiders' first return to the playoffs since 2002, a series of injuries open the way for the strongest passer on the team to start. Hello, Al? Just grin, baby.
OUR PICK: Raiders, 32-28.
--Frank Cooney
Oakland Raiders vs Houston Texans: prediction, preview, pick to win Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 9:43 PM Rating: 5

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