Miami Dolphins vs Houston Texans: HOU -8 (Pinnacle)
By posting this pick now I've already broke two of my own rules. First, I usually wait until Week 3 of the preseason is over so I can ensure there aren't significant and/or cluster injuries. Second, I could have had this line at -7 just a couple of weeks ago. One thing that you won't find me do very often is lay over 7 on a favorit. That said, I think this line should be -10 at the minimum. I still see value here.
MismatchesSome people have legitimate concerns about the depth at WR (especially if Andre Johnson goes down), but Kevin Walters is fine in a supporting role and Lestar Jean has emerged during the preseason as a up-and-coming option at the 3rd spot.
Beyond that, what we have is great overall talent and depth throughout the lineup. The biggest mismatch I see here is the advantage the Texans will have in the air on both sides of the ball. It's a big year for Matt Schaub, but he should start the season with a full arsenal of healthy weapons. The Dolphins defense was alright last year, but they didn't make any significant changes in their secondary - an area that was merely average. Look for them to get burned on more than one occasion as the Texans have the kind of balance on the ground to keep the back seven honest.
New Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has brought in his 4-3 scheme and the players said all the right things in camp, but their test right out of the gate is a monumental one. They didn't really do much in free agency or the draft to upgrade this side of the ball. Getting by with the status quo might be fine vs other teams, but on the road against what could be the best AFC team? I don't like their chances.
The only hope I see for Miami is with their ground game, but even that is up for debate. I've never been a fan of Reggie Bush outside of a speciality-type player. He did prove me wrong last year producing more than I thought he would, but they open the season against one of the most balanced and suffocating defenses in the entire NFL.
Beyond the Bets did a piece on the 15 rookie quarterbacks to start since 2006 and found that they are 55.4% ATS to date. Not bad if your name is Matt Tannehill, but this is probably the worst possible situation to open a season of all the rookies this year. We all know he has virtually nobody to throw to. Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Legadu Naanee? I'm sorry, but that's simply not good enough for 'make-or-break' situations. Their only chance is to capitalize on good fortune and the short-passing game of Joe Philbin's WCO. Tannehill is going to have a lot o fun figuring out Wade Phillips scheme. Pre-snap it's a 3-4, but post-snap it can resemble a 4-3.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Texans D produced the most pressure of any team in 2011. I see no reason why that won't continue in Week 1. They picked up in the preseason right where they left off.
Reason to Pause?I look up and down the Texans roster and my only concern is on the right side of the offensive line. Yet, during Gary Kubiak's tenure in Houston, the O-line has been a significant strength so I have trust that they'll once again shore up the losses of Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel. That said, they ran to the right side 235 times last year so all eyes will be on their approach in 2012.
Bottom LineI have the Texans rated very high on my personal power rankings and the Dolphins are near the bottom. Two of Houston's strengths are in the air on offense and defense, while these are the two biggest problem/question areas for the Dolphins. In today's NFL, that is a bad combination and mismatch to have. The Texans own advantages in other aforementioned areas too, but I'm going to be very surprised if Miami can keep this game within single digits. I'm also not worried about a potential backdoor cover. The offensive arsenal just isn't there yet.
NFL Pick: HOU -8.
The rest of my Week 1 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.