Oakland (12-4) at Houston (9-7)
When: Saturday, January 7th 2017
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
Time: 4:35 ET | TV: ABC/ESPN
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Quarterbacks take center stage in an AFC Wild Card matchup between the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans on Saturday afternoon at NRG Stadium. The recently benched Brock Osweiler will be back under center for the Texans after backup Tom Savage suffered a concussion in last week’s 24-17 loss to Tennessee. Head coach Bill O’Brien benched Osweiler in a Week 15 game citing his ineffectiveness and Savage promptly rallied the Texans to a huge comeback win over Jacksonville. The injury to Savage – currently in the NFL concussion protocol – also gives Osweiler an opportunity to erase the memory of a year ago, when he was benched in Denver’s regular-season finale in favor of Peyton Manning, who promptly led the Broncos to the Super Bowl title. That led Osweiler to leave Denver and sign a big contract with Houston. The Texans might want to lean more on running back Lamar Miller, who rushed for 1,069 yards this season. Miller practiced fully on Wednesday after missing two games with an ankle injury. Despite missing star defensive end J.J. Watt for the last half of the season, Houston ranks first in the league in overall defense (301.3) and second against the pass (201.6). Miller ran for 104 yards and a TD in a 27-20 loss to Oakland in Mexico back in Week 11.
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Oakland was enjoying a dream season until Week 15 and MVP-candidate Derek Carr broke his leg and was declared gone for the season. Backup Matt McGloin stepped in but injured his right shoulder in the regular season finale at Denver, so the Raiders have no choice but to go with rookie Connor Cook from Michigan State. He will be first QB to have his first career start being a postseason game in the Super Bowl era. Cook finished 14-of-21 for 150 yards with a touchdown and an interception in last week’s loss at Denver and has been in some big games during his career at Michigan State. The Raiders have the league’s No. 6 rushing attack at 120.1 yards per game and likely will try to ease the pressure on Cook by featuring a heavy dose of Latavius Murray and rookie DeAndre Washington. The Raiders will held to just 30 yards rushing in the Week 11 matchup with Houston. Defensive end Khalil Mack has recorded 11 sacks for a unit that ranked last in the league with just 25. Starting DT Stacy McGee, who was sidelined for the last five games due to a groin injury, practiced fully on Wednesday and is expected to play.
I don’t care how bad Osweiler is, he’s still better than a rookie making his first start. The last game Cook started was a College Football Playoff game last year against Alabama and the Crimson Tide crushed him 38-0. Houston’s defense will be all over him and the Texans will roll despite Osweiler being under center.
Pick: Texans -4