After a wild-card round filled with upsets and blowouts, the two top seeds spring into action in the second round of the NFL playoffs on Saturday.
The upstart Houston Texans travel to Baltimore for a 4:30 p.m. ET game and the Green Bay Packers try to pull off another big upset in San Francisco at 8:15 p.m ET.
The common theme for both improving young teams, of course, is excellent quarterback play, with first-year starter Jordan Love leading the charge for the Packers and Rookie of the Year favourite C.J. Stroud under centre for Houston.
Texans vs. Ravens odds
|Texans Moneyline Odds
|Ravens Moneyline Odds
|Ravens -9.5 (-110)
|43.5 points (over -110, under -110)
|Jan. 20, 4:30 p.m. ET
About the Texans (11-7 SU, 10-9 ATS, 7-11 o/u) and Ravens (13-4 SU, 11-7 ATS, 8-9 o/u)
Perhaps this topsy-turvy NFL season, with so many quarterback injuries and quickly shifting power rankings, was the perfect opportunity for a team like the Texans to improve from three wins the previous season to blowing out an 11-win team on the road in the first round of the playoffs. Still, it’s remarkable what Houston has done behind Stroud and Coach of the Year frontrunner Demeco Ryans, with last week’s 45-14 win over the Cleveland Browns signaling the legitimacy of this program.
But with plenty of injuries lingering from that game, the Texans are in deep here against a rested team that led the NFL in point differential (+203) and turnover margin (+12) and poses a matchup problem here with its unpredictable and ferocious pass rushing coming against a team that gave up the most sacks of any playoff team.
The big blow to Houston was losing veteran receiver Noah Brown to a shoulder injury in that Cleveland game. The Texans put Brown on injured reserve, ending his season, but they also listed fellow receivers Robert Woods and John Metchie III on their injury report this week.
Against a Ravens defence that disguises its blitzes and coverages and without at least one of his top targets, Stroud’s rookie poise may be tested like never before in this one.
Baltimore, meanwhile, has to show it’s not just a regular-season juggernaut. Quarterback Lamar Jackson likely sewed up his second MVP with his outstanding regular-season performance, but he has won just one of the four playoff games he has played and the Ravens flamed out in the first round of the 2019 playoffs following Jackson’s first MVP season.
On paper, this game is a mismatch and Baltimore won the Week 1 meeting between these teams 25-9, but Houston has no pressure while the Ravens have the weight of expectations.
Packers vs. 49ers odds
|Packers Moneyline Odds
|49ers Moneyline Odds
|49ers -9.5 (-110)
|50.5 points (over -110, under -110)
|Jan. 20, 8:15 p.m. ET
About the Packers (10-8 SU, 10-8 ATS, 11-7 o/u) and 49ers (12-5 SU, 9-8 ATS, 9-7-1 o/u)
This game represents one of the great playoff rivalries in the NFL. The Packers won the first five meetings, but San Francisco has won the last four, including the 2019 NFC title game and 2021 divisional round.
Both teams know what they’re looking at when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. The Packers had to deal with Aaron Rodgers’ hurt feelings when they took Love with the 26th overall pick in the 2020 draft, but after mostly sitting and watching Rodgers for three seasons, Love has been remarkable since taking over, particularly in the second half of this season. Love has thrown 21 touchdown passes with just one interception over his last nine games, completing 70.7% of his passes over that stretch.
The 49ers used the last pick of the 2022 draft, No. 262 overall, on Brock Purdy out of Iowa State. That, too, has worked out, as Purdy fits perfectly in coach Kyle Shanahan’s system, adeptly distributing the ball to an array of explosive weapons, who do much of their work after the catch. Purdy led the NFL with 45 completions of at least 25 yards and set a franchise record with 4,280 yards passing. In any other season, he would have been an easy MVP recipient, but Jackson is a prohibitive favourite after outplaying Purdy in a head-to-head showcase near the end of the season.
Also, Purdy may not have been the most deserving player on his own team. Running back Christian McCaffrey returns here after missing Week 18 with a calf injury looking to add to a season in which he led the NFL in rushing (1,459 yards) and was tied for the most touchdowns (21).
The Packers handled Micah Parsons last week, allowing just one pressure on 19 pass rush snaps, but they’ll have to do it again with Nick Bosa rushing in off the edge. And San Francisco’s defence is a lot better than Dallas’s in general: eighth overall, third against the rush and third in scoring average.
Bet on Packers vs. 49ers
For Houston, DE Will Anderson Jr. (ankle) returned to practice Thursday, but WR Woods (hip) remained limited late in the week and LB Christian Harris, CB Kris Boyd and DT Sheldon Rankins are all viewed as questionable.
Baltimore could get a boost with the return of TE Mark Andrews (ankle) to practice this week. WR Devin Duvernay (back) also looks like he’ll go, but CB Marlin Humphrey, WR Tylan Wallace and LB Jadaveon Clowney all are questionable.
Green Bay RB A.J. Dillon (thumb), P Daniel Whelan, LB Isaiah McDuffie (neck), LB Preston Smith (ankle) and WR Jayden Reed (chest) all are questionable.
San Francisco is among the healthiest teams in the NFL, with only S Logan Ryan (groin) and LB Dre Greenlaw (Achilles) questionable in this one.
It will be cold at kickoff in Baltimore, with temperatures expected to be in the -4 C vicinity, with winds gusting up to 27 km/h, but the snow from Friday’s forecast should be piled on the sidelines.
Even fair-weather locales have their issues this NFL postseason. Forecasts are calling for intermittent rain in Santa Clara, Calif., with temperatures of about 10 C and winds steady at about 16 km/h.
- The Texans are the first team since the 1981 New York Giants to be listed with 200-1 odds or higher to win the Super Bowl in the preseason and advance to the divisional round.
- Jackson’s teams have hit the under in all four of the playoff games he has played.
- The 49ers were the only team in the NFL to be favoured in all 17 of their games in the 2023 regular season.
- The Texans will be trying to buck a trend. In the past 20 years, teams that play in domes have gone 2-6 in playoff games played in sub-zero temperatures.
Player prop trends
- On 12 or more days of rest, Jackson’s teams are 1-6 ATS.
- When favoured by 7.5 points or more, Jackson’s teams have gone 1-8 ATS, but the one win came in Week 1 as 9.5-point favourites over the Texans.
- Love would become the first Packers QB to win his first two playoff starts. Brett Favre and Lynn Dickey each lost their second starts in the postseason.
Wagers to consider
- Stroud eclipsed his passing yards total in this one (236.5 yards at -110) in the teams’ first meeting and he blew that number out of the water last week as well as against Indianapolis to end the regular season. Consider taking the over here. If the Texans get behind, all the better, as the coaches will put the ball in the air to try to catch up.
- Love was impressive and the Packers are ahead of schedule, but the 49ers look like strong home favourites in this one. Even if conditions get dicey with a rainy forecast, this team has the flexibility to adjust and can simply hand the ball to the best running back in the game. Shanahan is awfully tough to beat with extra time to prepare and the better roster. It’s a big number (-9.5), but not an unreasonable number given the talent discrepancy.