Houston Texans vs New Orleans Saints: HOU +3 (5Dimes)The Houston Texans definitely aren't your front page headliners right now, but they should be. I might have the Patriots ahead of them in the offseason power rankings, but don't be surprised if you see a swap when I update them next week.
CoachesHistorically the Houston Texans under Gary Kubiak have done a good job piling up preseason wins in the first three weeks before they pack it in for the final game. Based on his comments to the media thus far I see no indication that he's about to take a different approach anytime soon.
Kubiak has already said he wants his starters to play three quarters against the Saints on Saturday and for someone like me that's music to my ears. From top to bottom you'll have a hard time finding teams with more quality on both sides of the ball.
For the Saints, interim Joe Vitt is still a wild card at this point, but he did play Drew Brees and company longer than people expected last week against the Jaguars. It's safe to say we can expect at least a half out of the starters and to see Chase Daniels at some point in the 2nd half.
What might be more important is the approach taken by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. He drew praise for his impact on this largely no-name unit in camp and through the first two preseason games, but things came crashing down last week against the Jaguars. The first-team secondary got picked apart and their overall tackling was atrocious. Chalk it up to normal preseason peaks and valleys, but you aren't going to find that kind of letdown on the Texans side of the ball.
MarketsCRIS opened the Saints as 4 point favorites on Monday, but that was immediately snatched up by early money. Right now you can get the Texans at +3 at even money, but the public bets are coming in on the Saints.
After Schaub takes the bench I'm more than comfortable with TJ Yates coming in to mop things up in the 4th quarter.
The Texans have a scary looking crew on defense and they've yet to give up to give up a touchdown this preseason. I don't expect them to shut Brees out, but they should be able to get enough pressure to limit his damage. Chase Daniel is someone I like a lot coming on in relief, but I think his matchup with Yates is a wash given the limited time they'll have on the field.
Loose EndsThe area that the Texans D want to focus on is their run defense. The Saints have capable guys coming out of the backfield and their O-line is very adept at run blocking. All the attention will be on the air attack, but I think the ground game is something worth watching.
The other impact player to watch for Houston is return specialist sensation Trindon Holliday. He has touchdown returns in back to back games and should be in the mix for more big plays in this game as well. At the very least, he should put the Texans offense in favorable field position once or twice.
Also don't forget about Ben Tate - who is possibly one of the better backups in the league at the moment. The right side of the O-line is still being evaluated, but both he and Foster have the ability to move the chains regardless of who's ahead of them.
Unfortuantley for the Saints, their own front seven will be significantly undermanned heading into this game. Chris Champerlain, Curtis Lofton, and David Hawthorne are all out with injuries which prompted a trade with Seattle for Barrett Ruud. Those linebackers join Jabari Greer on the sidelines giving coach Spags much less to work with. The Lofton injury will especially hurt in the middle.
On offense, the Saints are likely to be missing Darren Sproles once again and rookie WR Nick Toon isn't expected to play either.
PicksI realize that Drew Brees will be on the field for what could be three quarters and I understand his level of dominance at home, but this Texans team is a well-oiled machine at the moment. They don't have many significant injuries outside of JJ Watt and there is simply too much talent and depth to ignore. If the Saints were healthy and stable in their coaching ranks I would likely take a pass, but given the current situation I like Houston in this matchup.
NFL Pick: HOU +3.
The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.