The 12-4 Raiders will travel to Houston to face the Texans in the weekends first Wild Card Playoff matchup. The Raiders, who will be making their first playoff appearance since 2002 will be without the services of MVP candidate quarterback Derek Carr who broke his right fibula in week 17. They will also be without the services of backup quarterback Matt McGloin who replaced Carr and proceeded to injure his shoulder. This leaves rookie Connor Cook who will start at quarterback on Saturday afternoon. He will become the first rookie quarterback to make his first start in a playoff game. The Texans finished the season at 9-7 and won the AFC South despite the teams -49 point differential on the season and their own issues at quarterback.
The Texans signed Brock Osweiler to four year 72 million dollar contract in the offseason after he filled in adequately but not exceptionally for an injured Peyton Manning and the Super Bowl Champion Broncos last season. He posted the lowest yards per attempt for any staring quarterback in the league while the offense ranked 28th in points and 30th in passing touchdowns. The offense as a whole produced a dismal 23 touchdowns. Osweiler was benched late in the season in favor of Tom Savage but returned to the lineup in week 17 and will get the start this weekend. The team has been without leading rusher Lamar Miller for the last two games however he is also expected to play. His return will give hope to an offense that desperately needs a running game in order to give its passing game a chance to be successful. The team will rely heavily on its 5th ranked overall defense and the friendly confines of their home field advantage.
The Raiders looked like a potential Superbowl contender for most of the season. The showed tremendous poise and led the league in 4th quarter comeback wins. A lot of their success was due to the fantastic play and overall leadership of Carr who made big strides in his third season. Due to the injuries to both Carr and McGloin the team will turn to a rookie 4th round pick in Cook who is untested and facing an unprecedented situation. Cook will no doubt be aided by the fact that the Raiders have a pair of 1000 yard receivers in Amari Cooper (83 catches for 1,153 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Michael Crabtree 89 catches for 1003 yards and 8 touchdowns. The entire receiving core will need to adjust to the strengths of Cook if they want to get this road playoff win.
With the uncertainty at quarterback this is the most difficult game to predict as it is unclear how the Raiders offense will look with Cook under center. The Texans have made it this far with an underperforming offense and it will be up to their defense to continue to keep them in the game. The fact that the Raiders are starting a rookie in his first game has to have the Texans defenders excited to line up at home
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