Mystery surrounds the 2017 AFC wild card showdown between the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans.
The biggest uncertainty entering this game — well, at least when Week 17 came to a close — is the quarterback position, for both teams.
We at least know who will be starting the game for both teams, which is something we couldn’t have said a few days ago.
Connor Cook has been named the starter for the Raiders, and Brock Osweiler — you know, the guy who the Texans paid a pretty penny for in the offseason — will be making the start for Houston.
NEWS ALERT: Texans announce Brock Osweiler will start at QB in their wildcard game vs Oakland this Saturday. pic.twitter.com/hPo7jNw7Zv— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) January 3, 2017
The big question still remains: Can Oakland knock off Houston in a playoff game without Derek Carr? Yes, but it will not be easy, especially since Oakland is coming off of a six-point performance against the Denver Broncos. Not to mention, the Raiders will be taking on the Texans on the road.
Now that the quarterback battle is no longer a mystery in terms of who will start, here’s another question that is likely swirling around: Can Cook outduel Osweiler? Sure, but it won’t be easy. Before we break down that question in further detail, let’s take a look at how the Raiders and Texans got here in the first place.
To make a long story short, Carr went down in Week 16 with a brutal injury. Losing a quarterback is never easy for an NFL team to overcome, and that is an extreme understatement for Oakland. After all, Carr is in the NFL MVP race. Look no further than his stats to find out why.
In 2016, Carr racked up 3,937 passing yards, 28 passing touchdowns, and just six interceptions. On top of that, he helped the Raiders become one of the best teams in the NFL (they finished with an overall record of 12-4), which was quite the improvement from last season’s 7-9 squad.
Mystery surrounds the Texans’ quarterback situation for the simple fact that Osweiler has been a disappointment in 2016. Not only is Houston averaging 17.4 points per game, which is good for 28th-best in the league, but Osweiler has 16 interceptions on the season. Side note: the Texan only has 15 passing touchdowns in 2016. Osweiler was even benched in favor of Tom Savage.
To better answer the big question — can QB Connor Cook outduel Osweiler in the 2017 NFL playoffs? — let’s look at two reasons why he can and two reasons why he can’t.
Why Cook Won’t Outperform Osweiler
Two reasons: (1) Inexperience, and (2) Houston is no cupcake on the defensive side of the ball.
Not only is Cook a rookie, but he has played in a grand total of one (yes, one) game in the pros. That shouldn’t exactly excite Oakland fans.
In fact, check out this gem from ESPN.
“According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cook will become the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to start a playoff game without having a regular-season start on his résumé.”
In Cook’s only game of the season, which, of course, came in the Raiders’ season finale, he completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 150 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
All of that aside, Cook will still have to go up against Houston’s defense, which is only giving up 20.5 points per contest.
This might be the real stat that matters, and the one that could spell doom for young Cook. The Texans are only allowing 201.6 passing yards per game. They only trail the Denver Broncos in that category.
Why Cook Could Win The Quarterback Battle
Two reasons: (1) The Raiders’ weapons, and (2) Osweiler is not the best quarterback in the NFL.
Oakland had one of the best offenses in the NFL in 2016. Of course, some of that (okay, a good portion of that) was because of the play of Carr. Nonetheless, the Raiders averaged 26 points per game. What should really help Cook out is the balanced attack that Oakland brings to the table. After all, the team was sixth-best in the league in rushing yards per game with 120.1.
Having two 1,000-yard receivers certainly won’t hurt Cook’s cause either. Amari Cooper racked up 1,153 receiving yards in 2016 and Michael Crabtree recorded 1,003 receiving yards. Surely, Cook will be looking to target those two early and often in the playoffs.
Osweiler has been a disappointment this season — there’s really no other way to put it.
According to SI Wire, “His 5.97 yards per passing attempt was last among all qualified quarterbacks in the NFL, and his 72.2 passer rating was second to last, above only New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.”
While we do know who will be starting at quarterback for both teams, which is more than what we could have said a few days ago, it remains to be seen which quarterback will actually have a better game, and which team will come out on top in this AFC wild card showdown.
With that in mind, there are reasons to believe in Cook and there are reasons to be worried about Cook.
[Featured Image by Dylan Buell/Getty Images]