The road to New Orleans heads down I-10 through Houston.
While the Houston Texans didn't officially clinch the top seed in the AFC with a 43-13 beatdown of the Baltimore Ravens, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the conference challenging them for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Texans' pass rush hassled and harassed Joe Flacco into a dismal 21-of-43, 147-yard, two-interception performance and piled up nine early points en route to a spanking that lasted all afternoon.
An early Baltimore field goal had the home fans nervous. With the Texans coming off a humiliating loss to the Packers, a smattering of boos could be heard in Reliant Stadium.
As it turns out, if Aaron Rodgers would have beaten any team in football in Week 6, Flacco would have lost to any team in football.
After a brilliant punt pinned the Ravens up against the goal line early, Flacco failed to see Connor Barwin come clean off the edge. Barwin took down the Ravens quarterback in the end zone for a safety. Those two points would be the first of 29 consecutive tallies for the home team.
After the Texans took the lead on a 25-yard strike from Matt Schaub to Kevin Walter, J.J. Watt did his part to put the game away early.
On Baltimore's next possession, Watt tipped a pass from Flacco straight into the waiting arms of Johnathan Joseph. Joseph was a game-time decision to even play, but he scooped up the interception and ran it back 52 yards for a touchdown and a 16-3 Houston lead.
Things only got worse for the Ravens, as Flacco spent most of the game misfiring from a variety of angles. Baltimore went three-and-out on their next three drives, while the Texans took turns padding the lead with a touchdown and two more field goals before the break.
After trailing 29-3 at the half, Baltimore scored early in the third quarter to cut into the lead, but the Texans outscored them 14-3 down the stretch to cap the beating.
It was as complete a win as the Texans have had all season and should quiet critics who were waiting for them to play four quarters against a quality opponent.
Houston now heads to its bye week with just three games left against opponents with winning records.
Barring a complete and unforeseeable collapse, the Texans should be assured of prime positioning come January.
And for the 2012 Texans, January (and possibly February) is what it's all about.
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