The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, but the teams in this playoff game will be trying to downplay the position as much as possible. The Raiders are down to their third option, rookie Connor Cook, after losing starter Derek Carr because of a broken leg and backup Matt McGloin because of a shoulder injury.
The Texans have quarterback issues of their own. First, big-money acquisition Brock Osweiler was benched in favor of Tom Savage. Last Sunday, Savage was sidelined because of a concussion in the finale, and Osweiler played well in place of him. This week, Osweiler, who has 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions this season, reclaimed the starting job.
The saving grace for these teams is they can run the ball and have strong defenses. That will help them cover up their deficiencies when it comes to throwing the ball.
Still, in a postseason field that includes Super Bowl winners Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, the life expectancy of a quarterback-less team is pretty short.
“The quarterbacks are going to give us what they have and do the best they can,” Raiders Coach Jack Del Rio said. “And we’ve got to play well around them. We can’t expect them to come in and put us on their shoulders. We need them to just come in and do their job, and that’s what we’ll expect them to do this week.”
A troubling sign: After Sunday’s loss at Denver, Raiders tackle Donald Penn admitted that it was the first time that he had heard Cook’s voice in the huddle.
Cling to the bling
The Texans finished with the No. 2 pass defense behind Denver. The Broncos played the Raiders in their finale, and Denver cornerback Aqib Talib didn’t take too kindly to the glittering necklace Oakland receiver Michael Crabtree had been wearing all season. In fact, Talib ripped it off his neck during the game.
“He’s just been wearing that chain all year, man, it’s just been growing on me,” Talib told reporters after the game. “I said if he wears that chain in front of me, I’m going to snatch it off. So he wore it in front of me, so I had to snatch it off.”
Talib said Crabtree “started crying to the ref,” but “didn’t say nothing to me, though.”
Crabtree told reporters he showed restraint in not going after Talib.
“I can’t react, or they’re going to kick me out,” the receiver said. “Then I’m the bad guy.”
As for Talib, Crabtree said: “You hard? You tough? You snatch a chain in front of the police and run off? Childish, man.”
It remains to be seen whether Crabtree will replace the chain for the playoff game, and what Texans defenders would think of it if he did.
Man in the middle
Vince Wilfork’s career could come full circle in the next two weeks. The Texans nose tackle, the centerpiece of the NFL’s No. 1 defense, is considering retirement. If the Texans were to beat Oakland, they likely would play a divisional game at New England. The Patriots drafted Wilfork in the first round in 2004, and he was a fixture on their team for a decade.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about,” Wilfork, 35, said of retirement. “It’s a possibility. I still love this game. One of the hardest pills to swallow is when you leave something you love.”
By the numbers
How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):
Category | OAK | HOU
Points scored | 26.0 (7) | 17.4 (T28)
Points allowed | 24.1 (20) | 20.5 (11)
Pass offense | 253.2 (13) | 198.5 (29)
Rush offense | 120.1 (6) | 116.2 (8)
Pass defense | 257.5 (24) | 201.6 (2)
Rush defense | 117.6 (23) | 99.7 (12)
Sacks | 18 (32) | 32 (T21)
Penalty yards | 77.9 (32) | 54.2 (13)
Turnovers | +16 (T1) | -7 (T26)
Not only will the rookie Cook be making his first career start, but also he’ll be doing it on the road in the playoffs against the NFL’s top-ranked defense and a team that’s 7-1 at home. That’s an awfully tall order. The Raiders also will be without left tackle Penn, who injured his left knee in the regular-season finale against Denver. If the Texans play conservatively, and Osweiler avoids the turnovers, they should be able to win.
TEXANS 24, RAIDERS 20
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer