Houston Texans Vs. San Diego Chargers Betting Odds, Preview, and Prediction
Andre Johnson and the Texans are primed for a strong start after a disappointing finish to the 2012 season. (Photo: Reuters)
The Texans are coming off a bitter finish to their 2012 season. The Chargers are hoping to avoid what seems like an inevitable rebuilding project. Which team is poised to start off 2013 in style? I like the Texans to cover the -3.5 point spread, so let's take a closer look and see how things shake out.
Back in May, this line opened at -2.5 in favor of the Texans. It didn't take long until it was bet to -3 and it stuck there through most of training camp and the preseason, albeit with some heavy juice. Now that the games are upon us, money has continued to pour in on Houston and you now have to lay -3.5 if you like that side. The reason why I'm ok laying the extra half a point is because I don't think it will close at anything lower than -4. There's even a chance it goes up to the -5/-6 range, especially since it's a Monday Night Football game.
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85% of the bets are on the Texans thus far.
Odds courtesy of SBR Forum.
When the Chargers have the ball
The pressure is on Philip Rivers. The good news for him is that this is a significantly different system than Norv Turner's. They will do a lot more three and five step drops, which should alleviate some of the pressure that is sure to come up front. The bad news is Rivers has 47 turnovers in last two years (4th most in NFL) and most of that can be chalked up to inaccuracy and poor decision-making under pressure. His stats have continued to drop over the last couple years and he even finished with a below-average ranking overall. His lack of mobility is also problem behind a really subpar offensive line.
In truth, this offensive line was the worst in the league last year. According to Football Outiders, they were 30th in blown blocks leading to a sack. Unfortunately for Chargers fans, not much was done to improve this line, and King Dunlap winning the LT position is alarming. Needless to say, they have their hands full with all-pro J.J. Watt.
This offense will also contend with a healthy Brian Cushing, which should boost the overall effectiveness of this Houston defense. They catch a break with the Antonio Smith suspension, but Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus are explosive and disruptive forces at linebacker. Ryan Mathews might have looked good in the preseason, but even with his skill he has issues with blitz pickup, ball security, and durability. I don't like his chances against this swarming defense. I do think Danny Woodhead could be sneaky good in a situational role though.
An even bigger problem could be what happens in the air. Malcolm Floyd is really good at wide receiver, but he'll be outmatched if he has to face off against Jonathan Joseph all game. Vincent Brown showed well as a rookie in 2011, but Kareem Jackson has the ability to lock things down on the other side. Keenan Allen is just a rookie and didn't perform in the preseason like many had hoped, so I'd be surprised if he was much of a factor. Antonio Gates is steady at tight end, but Father Time is definitely working against him.
Collectively, they'll also have to overcome great safety play. Danieal Manning can cover most tight ends and come down into the box for run support. Ed Reed is back at practice who is back at practice and could see some opportunities to pick off some passes roaming around in center field. [UPDATE]: Ed Reed is now "unlikely" to play in this game. Shiloh Keo is officially listed as his backup, but I wouldn't be surprised if they shift Danieal Manning to the high safety spot and insert D.J. Swearinger at strong safety. Swearinger might be a rookie, but he's also more physical, decisive and stable in man coverage.
When the Texans have the ball
Part of what makes the Houston offense so dynamic is defenes are left unsure what's going to happen a full second or two after the ball is snapped. They accomplish this with a huge amount of two-tight end sets, bunched formations, and indistinguishable offensive line motions off the snap. This allows them to do the stretch play with Arian Foster or Ben Tate, or peel off with a bootleg and rollout without recognition.
Over the last three years they've averaged a league-best 6.9 yards on first down. This amplifies their disguised play-calling even more on second and third down. They have pro-bowlers at LT (Duane Brown) and at center (Chris Myers), the two most important positions on the line.
So even though Matt Schaub isn't capable of keeping up with the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning, he is very effective given the system that he's in. It also helps to have guys like Foster, Andre Johnson, and Owen Daniels as a supporting cast. Schaub's main issue is when he's forced into third and long situations.
Thankfully, this Chargers defense doesn't have the kind of secondary that allows for an ultra-aggressive (or effective) scheme. Derek Cox and Shareece Wright come with big question marks and Cox was routinely killed by top wide receivers last year. Eric Weddle is one of the league's best at his position, but he can only do so much.
This group not only has to contend with Andre Johnson, but they'll now have to man up in single coverage on DeAndre Hopkins, who was just cleared to play after a preseason concussion. Hopkins is key because the Texans have been looking for a viable threat at the number two spot for as long as I we can remember.
The best hope the Chargers defense have is if they can get some pressure from Dwight Freeney and a combination of blitzes. It really hurts that Melvin Ingram was lost, but they still have Corey Lieget and Kendell Reyes. Many were also looking forward to seeing Manti Te'o make his debut, but it's looking like he won't be available due to injury.
The Chargers really believe that they can make another run with this group of players, but they'll likely find out that this is a ship with too many holes. The new offensive scheme should help Rivers and make this unit more effective, but they get the unfortunate task of facing one of the best defenses in the AFC to kick things off.
On the other side of the ball, the Texans offense knows exactly what they want to do and how to execute it. The Chargers would like to be more creative and throw some creative looks at Houston, but their corners aren't good enough to employ that scheme. They can focus their attention on Andre Johnson, but Foster, Tate, Daniels, and Hopkins will take advantage.
NFL Pick: HOU -3.5.
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