With the NFL Playoffs finally here, the Raiders travel to NRG Stadium to face the Texans in the AFC Wild Card game featuring two below-average signal callers – Brock Osweiler for Houston and Connor Cook for Oakland.
The big news, of course, is Oakland’s dire quarterback situation with starter Derek Carr lost for the foreseeable future with a broken leg and backup Matt McGloin less-than 100% after sustaining a shoulder injury in last week’s game at Denver.
That leaves third-string quarterback Connor Cook, a surprise fourth-round pick last spring (No. 100 overall) who threw for 9,194 yards with 71 touchdowns and 22 interceptions during his four-year collegiate career at Michigan State. Cook becomes the first NFL quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in the playoffs.
Interestingly, Todd Marinovich is the only Oakland quarterback to start a playoff game as a rookie, and that experience was painful to watch for the Black & Silver. Marinovich threw four interceptions in a 10-6 loss to Kansas City in the 1991 playoffs.
Cook has played 30 career snaps in the NFL, all of which came against Denver last week after McGloin went down with a shoulder injury. The rookie gunslinger passed for 150 yards (14-of-24) and a touchdown with an interception and a lost fumble. Wide receiver Amari Cooper was impressed by Cook. “He’s just confident out there. He was just ripping them, making throws, stepping up in the pocket.”
Cook now faces a talented Houston pass rush led by Jadeveon Clowney, who recorded 6 sacks, a forced fumble and 52 tackles, including twelve for a loss in fourteen games this season. Houston’s defense ranks ninth in completion percentage allowed and its strength resides in pressuring the quarterback and forcing him out of the pocket.
Meanwhile, Houston gets a major boost with the return of starting running back Lamar Miller, who ran for 1,073 yards on 268 carries and five touchdowns in 14 games this season. Miller missed the last two games due to an ankle injury, but reports indicate that he is 100% healthy for Saturday’s playoff game.
Without Miller on the field, the Texans’ running backs combined for 95 yards in their win over the Bengals in Week 16 and 46 yards in last Sunday’s loss against Tennessee. Backup running back Alfred Blue finished last week’s game with just 28 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Needless to say, Houston offensive coordinator George Godsey is thrilled to have his star running back on the field for Saturday’s game. Miller will definitely help Houston’s stagnant attack that averaged just 17.4 points per game this season, the lowest point total among this year’s playoff teams. Oakland’s defense finished dead last in the NFL in yards per play allowed (6.1).
Technically speaking, the Raiders are 9-2 ATS in their last 11 road games, 4-0 ATS in their last four games off a loss and 23-9 ATS in their last 32 games after failing to cover the point spread. However, Houston head coach Bill O’Brien is 18-2 SU and 14-5-1 ATS as a favorite, including 8-1 SU and 7-1-1 ATS following a loss. The Texans are also 1-6 ATS in their last seven games overall and 1-3-1 ATS in their last five home tilts.
If the line reaches +4, I will lean with the Oakland Raiders. If the line drops to -3, I’ll lean with the Houston Texans. In other words, I will look elsewhere to invest my money in the NFL playoffs.
Oskeim Sports’ Free NFL Playoffs Sports Pick: Oakland at +4 or Houston at -3 (both leans at -110 odds).