The Texans are heavy underdogs in their Divisional Round matchup with the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, and that suits them just fine.
The Ravens (12-4) were a perfect 8-0 at home this season, including a 29-14 victory over Houston on Oct. 16. They're favored by 7.5 points over the Texans (11-6), who aren't being given much of a chance to win despite a 31-10 thumping of the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round.
"I think it's kind of been our situation since we've lost some key players, especially since we had our quarterback situation," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Monday. "I think a lot of people have said there are a lot of things we can't do. We've had to go to work and try to prove them wrong, so to speak. That's been part of our motivation as a football team and will continue to be that."
Had the Texans not lost quarterback Matt Schaub to a season-ending foot injury in Week 10, they might have been the runaway favorites to win the AFC. At the time of Schaub's injury, they were 7-3 and the AFC's No. 1 seed. They averaged 27.3 points per game, which ranked fifth in the NFL. In the final six games o f the regular season, they averaged 18.0 points, which was tied for 24th.
That drop-off has amplified questions about whether the Texans can win with a rookie fifth-round pick, T.J. Yates, at quarterback. Those questions have persisted this week with the Texans heading to a hostile environment for a playoff game against the league's third-ranked defense.
"I love it," wide receiver Kevin Walter said. "I love being the underdog. That's what it's about. People aren't going to give us a chance this week. People didn't give us a chance last week. I've been an underdog my whole life, and people say I can't do this, can't do that. That just motivates me. I know it motivates those guys in that locker room, and we're looking forward to going to Baltimore and playing well."
The Texans placed top pass rusher Mario Williams on injured reserve in Week 6, yet they finished the season ranked second in defense. They lost Schaub and Matt Leinart to season-ending injuries in back-to-back games, yet Yates led them to victories at Jacksonville, against Atlanta and at Cincinnati to cap a seven-game winning streak. They played nine games this season without wide receiver Andre Johnson, three without running back Arian Foster and two without defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
Right tackle Eric Winston said he was happy to hear people doubting the Texans heading into last Saturday's game against Cincinnati.
"That was good, because most of the year it had been, 'They've gotten this far, but this is why they can't win this game,' or, 'They've gotten this far, but this is why they can't beat Atlanta, this is why they can't go on the road to beat Cincinnati,'" Winston said. "Seems like we've played well from the underdog role. It seems like we've played well when most people are doubting us, so, you know, that's fine. We've had a lot of doubters all year.
"Maybe we're the only ones that believe in each other and believe that we can beat anybody in this league when we're playing the right way and we're playing within ourselves and how we know how to play, so I'm excited about the challenge."
Kubiak said Monday that the Texans know if they play their type of football – stout defense, a strong running game and minimal mistakes – they'll have an excellent chance to win, no matter who their opponent is or what their perceived odds may be.
"I wonder how many games we've lost this season when we were the underdog," safety Glover Quin said. "The last three games of the season, we were picked to win, and we lost all of them.
"Every game that we're picked to lose, we go out with a chip on our shoulder and we some kind of way get a win, so we're going to have the same edge on Sunday. We're going to go out there knowing that it's a tough environment, knowing that we got to go fight, and we're going to leave it on the field. We're the underdogs; hopefully we can come out on top."