Monday, September 16, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 3: Texans vs Ravens

Houston Texans vs Baltimore Ravens: HOU -1 (-123) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

There isn't a whole lot of mystery to this point spread. The look-ahead line was -1, and that's where it re-opened on Sunday night/Monday morning. Since then, we've seen a steady stream of early money come in on the road favorite, as most books are pushing it up to -2.5. I'd be surprised if it went all the way to -3, but if you like the Texans you might not want to wait.  If I had no choice, I'd go ahead and lay the -2.5, but I chose to pay a bit extra juice to essentially make this a 'pick em'.  Consider it a knee-jerk reaction to all the razor thin non-covers from the first two weeks.

Two injuries that could affect the line are both Andre Johnson and Ray Rice. They will be late week decisions, but I think both will play. AJ had no lingering symptoms today and reading between the lines of what coach Kubiak said, it seems like a green light pending any setbacks. Ray Rice is "day to day" and they are "optimistic" and "confident" in his status.

68% of the early bets are coming in on the Texans.

When the Texans have the ball

What do we make of this Texans offense through two weeks?  More importantly, what's going on with Matt Schaub? We can look at his play through two weeks with both lens. On one hand he hasn't played very well when facing pressure and he's made some really bad throws that led to deficits in both weeks. Yet, in both games he's led dramatic comebacks for to snatch undeserving victories. On Houston's last three possessions in Week 2 he was 9 for 17 for 175 yards with every completion going for a first down or touchdown. The jury is still out on Schaub, but the good news is he has new toys in his arsenal.

DeAndre Hopkins had a coming out party of sorts, and all the attention and hype is well deserved. He finished up catching seven of 13 targets for 117 yards and a TD, including the game-clinching score. He did seem to have a communication problem with Schaub that led to the pick-six, but what was most impressive was how he rebounded - especially with Andre Johnson going out with a concussion.

The other guy worth noting here is Keyshawn Martin. He not only has the second most kickoff return yards this year, but he came up with big catches in the passing game. He's a pure catch-and-run artist from the slot. If AJ is out for Week 3, it should bump Lestar Jean's snap count up and I'd be ok with that. Even without AJ, the Texans have better pass-catching weapons than the Ravens - which includes Owen Daniels. And speaking of tight ends, the Ravens have given up a combined 10 catches for 256 yards and two touchdowns to Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron.

The other area that the Texans have the advantage is on the ground. Arian Foster and Ben Tate combine for a formidable one-two punch. Foster is getting around two-thirds of the snaps, but Tate is making the most of his touches too.

The best chance the Ravens have on Sunday is their pass rush.Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are leading the way, and Haloti Ngata and Arthur Jones are also in on the action.  Their chances for more success could also improve with All-Pro LT Duane Brown fighting a turf toe. He's a game time decision.

Finally, much like the Lions, I'm nervous about the Texans kicking game. Rookie kicker Randy Bullock is 1 for 5 this year. Once again, let's hope the game doesn't hinge on his success in the final moments.

When the Ravens have the ball

Despite some of the issues with the Houston offense, they are first-world problems compared to what the Ravens are facing. Much like Schaub, Flacco has struggled badly when facing pressure this year. But the problems go further than that. There's no legitimate deep threat with Jacoby Jones on the shelf. Flacco went 0 for 6 on passes of 20+ yards and 2 for 13 on those passes for the season. Without Jones, defenses are allowed to double up on Torrey Smith.

At tight end, things are just as bleak without Pitta. There are simply too many dropped passes in this pass-catching group and the inconsistency is disrupting the offense.

What's worse is the running game and the poor run blocking. Yanda was the only player to have a decent game vs the Browns. As a whole this line is struggling pretty bad, and now they face a Houston defensive front that is going to swarm around the ball from start to the finish.

Baltimore used to be able to rely heavily on Ray Rice to spearhead the offense, but he hurt his hip and is questionable for this game. Even if he does play, he hasn't been very effective this year. Backup Bernard Pierce has been the better runner picking up hard-fought yards - especially in the red zone.

Bottom Line

If Andre Johnson sits, that will give a big boost to the Ravens defense. However, the Texans still have weapons in the air and on the ground. The bigger question will continue to swirl around Matt Schaub, who seems to have a heavier monkey on his back this year. The Ravens defense is above-average, but that's more than I can say about their offense.

I've never been a big fan of Joe Flacco. He shut me up in the playoffs en route to a championship, so I give him kudos for that, but in the regular season he's never really broke through to that "elite" club. Now with weak options at the skill position, he's struggling to get the job done. I think his struggles will be on display once again against this Texans defense.

NFL Pick: HOU -1 (-123).