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Thursday, October 17, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 7: Texans vs Chiefs (updated)

Houston Texans vs Kansas City Chiefs: KC -6 (Bet365)

Market Watch

A week ago, the Chiefs were only -3 point favorites in the look-ahead line. After Houston put up a dismal performance against the Rams, and the Chiefs covered a large spread against the Raiders, this line reopened at -5. It was immediately bet up, but it hasn't reached a full touchdown ... yet.

News out of Houston is that Casey Keenum is going to get the start this week, but I'm not sure how much we should downgrade the Texans due to that. It's not like they were getting great play from Matt Schaub. Even more concerning is that the Texans are 0-6 ATS the spread, while the Chiefs are 5-1. Sooner or later these numbers will regress to the mean.

76% of the bets are on KC thus far, and that number is sure to increase.

When the Texans have the ball

How bad have the Texans offense been? Perhaps not as bad as it seems going by the media, but when your passing attack ranks near the bottom of the league and your team has a -12 turnover differential, you can understand why they made a change at QB.

All is not totally lost though. They still feature a dynamic running game and haven't had huge trouble moving the ball between the 20s. The biggest issue is execution in the red zone, along with offensive penalties and turnovers. You simply can't win football games with that template.

Enter Casey Keenum. I really liked this kid in the preseason and he was a big reason why I rode them in almost every game during exhibition. But this is about as far away from a scrimmage as you can get. No longer will Keenum be facing backups in vanilla coverages. Instead, he's facing the fiercest defense in the NFL in a supremely hostile environment.

The quality of competition hasn't been the best, but KC have the top rated pass defense, drive stats, and third down and red zone efficiency.  Complimenting their defense is the best net average starting field position and the best special teams unit in the NFL.

Keenum is going to sorely miss Owen Daniels in this game. He still has Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, but KC is equipped to deal with this attack.

It doesn't get much better than Hali and Houston on the outside. In the middle Dontari Poe has been a beast, but Tyson Jackson and Mike Devito are playing equally well. Rookie Marcus Cooper has filled in admirably for the injured Brandon Flowers.  If Flowers can't go again this week, they should be ok with Sean Smith and Cooper.

New defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has lots of toys to play with on this side of the ball and he has the luxury of loading up in coverage if he wants. With quality corners and reliable safeties, he can also bring the heat and overload the front in key situations.

Houston will need Keenum to limit his mistakes, rely on the ground game, and take what the defense gives him - which might be next to nothing. This could get ugly if they fall behind a couple scores.

When the Chiefs have the ball

In polar opposite fashion, the Chiefs are +12 in turnover differential this season. This is also in stark contrast from a year ago when they were the worst team in the league in this category. Much of that is due to a fresh start and transition to Andy Reid and Alex Smith, but all it's not all peaches and cream for this KC offense.

Last week Smith was only 14 of 31 for 128 yards and he hasn't thrown a TD pass in two weeks. When you start listing KC as touchdown or more favorites in a game, it's hard to pull the trigger with this kind of offensive production.

Thankfully, they have a guy by the name of Jamaal Charles. He not only accounts for most of the yardage, but he's the guy they turn to when they need touchdowns too. Dwayne Bowe has not looked like his usual self this year, which puts too much pressure on Smith and the other skill position players.

It doesn't help that Eric Fisher has struggled in his rookie season. Last week he gave up another sack, a hit, four hurries, and a penalty. These are drive killing mistakes that are happening far too often. Overall, the rest of the line has picked up the slack, but Fisher is really holding them back in terms of their true potential.

All this isn't to say that the KC offense is bad per say. They still rank average in all the critical categories, which is just fine if the rest of the team is playing at an elite level. If they lose Charles, it might be time to panic, but for now we should be able to expect more of the same, safe, efficient ball from this offense.

Normally, I'd be worried matching up this kind of unit against the Texans defense, but they've been a huge letdown this year. Brian Cushing returned from his concussion, but he didn't look like his dominant self against the Rams. Perhaps it was just a one week thing as he regains his focus, but if he's not playing at a high level, it has a trickle effect on the rest of the D.

They also got bad news when Danieal Manning went down with an injury. He was their most important safety, so things could get dicey on the back end with him out. Once again, they'll need JJ Watt to continue his torching pace up front.

The question is will it be enough? Even with his other-worldly play, they still rank average in pass defense and they rank dead last in red zone effiency. It's very uncharacteristic for this unit to be so bad in clutch situations, so they need to turn that trend around quick or this season will be a complete write-off.

Bottom Line

I see no reason why this line isn't a full touchdown. Even before the QB announcement I had this game circled as a potential play. Now that they are throwing in the rookie to the wolves, the Chiefs are a no-brainer play.  Statistically, KC could be as high as -10 point favorites. That's no joke.

Despite the names on the field, the cold fact is that the Texans are just not living up to their billing and now they have key injuries to deal with. The only caution here is that Houston might step up their play now that the pressure is off. With a rookie QB, the rest of the roster might feel compelled to raise their game and not get embarrassed.

In reality, Keenum couldn't come into a more difficult spot. Starting at Arrowhead against this defense? Good luck kid, you're going to need it. I'll lay the points at anything under a TD.

NFL Pick: KC -6.
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