1. Complete effort required: When the Texans lost in Baltimore on Oct. 16, they had a 14-13 lead in the third quarter. Then they gave up 16 unanswered points. In the fourth quarter, Houston managed just three first downs and didn’t string together a drive of more than 37 yards. And that was with Matt Schaub still healthy and playing quarterback. He threw for 220 yards and a touchdown while taking four sacks. The Texans are 0-5 all time against the Ravens, and their first breakthrough won’t come this time at M&T Bank Stadium if they don’t play well for a full game. Baltimore is undefeated at home and spent the whole season working to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs, which they have against everyone except New England.
2. Limit big plays: The Ravens are hardly a team built on the ability to make big pass plays down field. But the Texans made Baltimore seem that way. Joe Flacco threw for 305 yards thanks to connections of 56 yards to Anquan Boldin over Johnathan Joseph and 51 yards to Torrey Smith over Kareem Jackson. Ray Rice chipped in with a 27-yard run on the final Ravens touchdown drive that put the game out of reach. The Ravens looked like a big-play machine against a defense that did a good job limiting such things for most of the year and finished as the No. 2 unit in the NFL. Andre Johnson didn’t play in the regular-season game for Houston, so the Texans will have their own big-play element in the lineup.
3. Pro Bowl backs: Two of the AFC’s three Pro Bowl running backs will square off here in Baltimore’s Rice and Houston’s Arian Foster. Rice runs behind fullback Vonta Leach, who was an All-Pro for the Texans last year and is an All-Pro for the Ravens this year. Houston had the No. 2 run game in the NFL, Baltimore’s was No. 10. The team that slows the opposing star back would seem likely to move on to the AFC Championship Game. But they finished the regular season awfully even. The Ravens allowed 92.6 yards a game and 3.5 yards a carry; the Texans were at 96.0 and 4.1.