Tennessee Titans (1-2) at Houston Texans (3-0)
In my power rankings this week, I poked holes in pretty much every other team in the league. I can’t do that with the Texans. They are without a flaw. Winning in Denver in the high altitude against a talented team and a no huddle offense is damn impressive and 3 games into the season, this is the Super Bowl favorite and the most complete team in the league.
The only two quasi-holes you can poke in this team are these. Can they stay healthy? And can Matt Schaub win it all on his first career trip to the postseason? Neither of those things are going to be factors this week. It’s not the playoffs yet and the only injury they have is depth receiver Lestar Jean, who is out after having knee surgery. All of the key players are still healthy.
As for the Titans, last week, they looked much more like the Titan team I put in the playoffs at the beginning of the season. Jake Locker looked much more comfortable with Nate Washington and Kenny Britt at full strength, going 29 of 42 for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns, although part of that might be Detroit’s crappy secondary. The Titans do rank 18th in yards per play differential, but I’m not putting them back in the playoffs or anything yet.
Chris Johnson is still hilariously bad, even against the type of poor run defense he would have gashed last season, and the young defense is still missing Cortland Finnegan and Colin McCarthy. The latter is expected back from injury sometime soon, but he won’t play in this one. Also possibly not playing in this one is Kenny Britt, who hasn’t practiced all week with an ankle problem. That obviously hurts Locker as he faces the toughest defense he’s played yet.
The difference between these two teams’ yards per play differentials is .9 yards per play. An old gambling formula says to divide that by .15 and then add 3 either way to get the “real line.” That suggests that this line should be -9 in favor of the Texans. Obviously, it’s a little bit more accurate later in the season, but it’s definitely worth noting. We’re getting 3 points of line value with the Titans and that doesn’t even take into account that Tennessee looked much better last week. This line was also -10 a week ago when the Titans looked like one of the worst teams in the league. I don’t know why it would shift 2 points in the other direction now that the Titans look passable, even though Houston’s win was impressive.
That being said, the Titans are in a tough situation this week. Dogs coming off a close (1-3 points) win as home dogs are 19-31 ATS since 2002. Teams tend not to be focused after a close, emotional upset win at home, which makes sense. Also Britt’s possible and likely absence does hurt them a lot. It’s one of the reasons, I believe, that they looked so much better last week, along with the return of Nate Washington to full strength.
I’m really torn on this one. There’s a reason I saved it for last. Houston is the best team in the league, but as we saw with the 49ers last week, teams that get anointed as the best team in the league by the media tend to fall flat the next week. That happened with the Patriots after week 1 too. The Titans are also coming off their best performance yet and are healthier than they’ve been all season, even with Britt possibly out. We also get line value with the Titans and the chance to fade the public.
However, Tennessee is in a tough spot and Britt’s absence does matter a lot with Locker facing almost definitely the toughest defense he’s ever faced as a starter. Also, while they looked much better last week, they still only managed to win by 3 and their defense once again looked really bad. And let’s not forget, in their first 2 games, they weren’t competitive at all.
I was going to just take the points and fade the public because of how well underdogs are doing this year (29-18 ATS) and how poorly the public is doing this year. Road dogs of 10+ and home dogs of 7+ are a combined 4-2 ATS this year. However, those two losses were both against the Texans, who really look like the real deal, unlike San Francisco and New England when they were anointed. The Texans have also covered in another bad situation this year, as road favorites (6-13 ATS this year) and against no slouch of a team, playing the Broncos in Denver. I’m not betting against them.
Public lean: Houston (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Tennessee covers)
Sharps lean (sharps is defined as anyone with a 66.7% winning percentage or higher in Las Vegas Hilton): TEN 5 HOU 5
Final Update: Sharps are also torn as I am and as afraid of this game as I am. The fact that so few sharps are picking Tennessee (sharps tend to love dogs and big dogs especially) makes me feel a little bit more confident in Houston, who is probably the best team in the league, but if I did 0 unit picks, this would be one of them.
Houston Texans 31 Tennessee Titans 17
Pick against spread: Houston -12 (-110) 1 unit