Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Houston Texans vs Denver Broncos: HOU -1 (Pinnacle)

Markets

The look-ahead line for this game had the Texans as short favorites, and after Week 2 not much has changed.  I was hoping for a Broncos cover on Monday Night Football, not only because I picked them, but also for some value on Houston in Week 3.  I don't see this line hitting the magical '3', but it will be interesting to see what it closes at.

Home Field Advantage?

Week 2 saw an astonishing 11 teams cover the spread after splitting Week 1 going 8-8 ATS. Was it also a coincidence that the replacement refs had a horrible weekend?  The jury is still out on what the specific impact these officials are having, but I saw many 50/50 calls go in favor of the home team this week.  I'm not saying they decided any games, but the unpredictability of their ability to control and call a game is getting more concerning.

Last weekend could have been an anomaly, but one thing I do know is if you like a road team in Week 3, you better be sure of your advantages.  The fact that the Broncos enjoy an inflated home field advantage playing in the thin air of Mile High should tell you just how much I like this Texans team.

Super Bowl Bound?

So far there are a couple teams that I was very wrong about.  KC Chiefs for example.  However, one team I appear to be spot on with is the Houston Texans.  I picked them before the season to win the Super Bowl and placed them at the top of my power rankings before seeing a single snap.

I realize it's only been two weeks, but I saw much of the same domination last year before they suffered some huge injuries to key players.  The Texans beat up on much inferior opponents, but that's what top teams are supposed to do so I'm not going to take anything away from their victories thus far.

Defense Wins Championships?

Since the Broncos don't face the 49ers this year, chances are this will be the toughest defense Peyton Manning sees all year.  On one side he will see Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin behind him.  On the other side he'll see JJ Watt and Brooks Reed.  These guys play relentless football and come at you on every down.  The scary thing is they can often get pressure without bringing extra guys.

Over the middle they'll have to deal with Brian Cushing.  Even their reserve guys can make plays. Whitney Mercilus was taken in the first round and is coming in as a pass rushing specialist. 

If Peyton is going to play the underneath game with Stokley, his tight ends, and McGahee, it's going to be tough-sledding for every yard and every first down.

If he wants to attack them vertically, the news might be even worse.  Danieal Manning and Glover Quin are as versatile as they come. They can make tackles in the run game, line up at cornerback, or roam free and patrol centerfield. On the outside is Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. This group doesn't get as much national attention as they should, but they are a great backbone of what is already a formidable front seven.

Manning will have a game plan and using a lot of base two-tight end sets is going to give him an advantage on the snap, but as we saw vs the Falcons, it's not a well-oiled machine just yet.  If they hope to win this game, they'll have to do it playing smart and efficient ball (and not turn the ball over 4 times in the 1st quarter).

Can Anybody Stop Foster and Tate?

When you line up Denver's defense against anybody, I'm going to like their chances at slowing them down. They did a pretty good job against the Steelers in Week 1 and weren't' terrible vs the Falcons either.  The one question that I do have is how they are going to do in make-or-break situations.

The true identity of a team comes on third down and in the red zone.  So far this Broncos D has had trouble in these areas.  I don't put too much into that yet because Big Ben knows how to get it done when things are on the line and they were repeatedly put in bad spots with Peyton's turnovers vs Atlanta, but things aren't going to get any easier with Houston on deck.

Matt Schaub isn't about to win any passing titles or lead the league in touchdowns, but he doesn't have to.  He's in the perfect scheme that allows him to pick his spots and win on play-action.  When you have guys like Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the backfield running behind a dominant offensive line, the QB is going to have his choice over the middle with Owen Daniels or on the outside with Andre Johnson all day.

I expect the Texans to continue with their no-huddle power running game on Sunday and put a lot of pressure on the coverage units.

Bottom Line

I've seen a lot of power rankings out there that have the Texans number two behind the 49ers.  When you look at the Super Bowl odds you'll see the same thing.  It's good to see Houston get their respect, but make no mistake about it - this is the best overall team in the NFL right now.  I would also take them to beat any team in a straight up pick em on gameday - including Week 3.

NFL Pick: HOU -1.

The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.