Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) at Houston Texans (0-4)
The Texans are really in a mess of a situation. They gave complete control of their roster and complete control of the offense to head coach Bill O’Brien, who was essentially functioning as his own general manager and offensive coordinator, despite never proving himself as a great coach. O’Brien took this team to the post-season in 2019, but the Texans had a negative point differential at -7 and O’Brien’s roster changes this off-season undoubtedly made them worse.
Now the Texans are off to a 0-4 start and, making matters so much worse, due to O’Brien’s failed aggressive moves to try to build this roster into a Super Bowl contender, the Texans won’t even have the luxury of having their own first or second round pick this year. This comes after having just one first round pick and just two picks in the top-50 over the past 3 drafts combined, due to other failed aggressive moves. On top of that, the Texans don’t have much long-term financial flexibility either, with a projected negative 11 million in cap space for 2021 and 11 players under contact for 2021 who are all making 9 million or more annually. Simply put, the Texans aren’t winning games and won’t be able to utilize the normal methods by which teams improve themselves and rebuild.
The Texans’ solution to this was to fire Bill O’Brien four games into the season. O’Brien certainly is to blame for the current situation, but it’s hard to see how firing him makes them better in the short-term. O’Brien isn’t a great coach, but he’ll be turning the job over to 73-year-old Romeo Crennel, who has already failed in two other head coaching stints. It’s very unlikely he’ll be able to do much more with O’Brien’s roster than O’Brien could, especially as a defensive background head coach without a proven offensive coordinator, so the Texans probably would have been better off just stripping O’Brien roster control powers rather than outright firing him and leaving a huge vacuum.
That being said, there is one reason to like the Texans’ chances of turning things around somewhat in the short-term and that’s simply that their schedule gets a lot easier. The Texans started their season with a murderer’s row of the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers and, while the Vikings were winless coming into their week 4 matchup in Houston, the Vikings were much better than their record suggested, as they too started the season with a brutal schedule and fared much better on a per snap basis than their final scores would have suggested.
The Texans weren’t competitive with the Chiefs and Ravens, but they played both Pittsburgh and Minnesota within one score, leading the Steelers at one point in the fourth quarter and then having a chance to at least send the game to overtime at the end of the game against the Vikings. The Texans aren’t a great team, but on paper they have enough talent that they should be a middling team, regardless of their head coaching situation, and I think that’s been obscured by how tough their early schedule has been.
This week, the Texans get arguably the easiest game of their season, at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite having one of the worst rosters in the league, the Jaguars surprisingly won week 1 against the Colts in a game that largely swung on the Jaguars winning the turnover battle by 2, something that is very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. However, they’ve fallen back to reality since then, especially on defense, where they rank 30th in first down rate allowed. Their offense has kept them afloat by ranking 8th in first down rate at 42.51%, but it’s hard to imagine their offense being this good all season. If they even fall down to being an middling offense, it’s going to be tough for them to win games against anyone.
Given that, I like the Texans chances of covering this week. It may be weird to see an 0-4 team favored by 5.5 points, but typically when a winless team is favored by this many points, there’s a good reason for it. Over the past 30 years, teams that are 0-2 or worse are 33-21 ATS as favorites of 4.5 or more. That alone isn’t a reason to bet the Texans, but it’s a reason to not be scared off by the Texans’ record.
I’m keeping this as a low confidence bet for now, but the Jaguars are already without cornerback DJ Hayden, seem likely to be without edge defender Josh Allen, who didn’t practice all week, and could possibly also be without linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback CJ Henderson, though both did get limited practices in on Friday. Depending on the inactive report for Jacksonville and where this line is Sunday morning, I may end up making a bet on Houston.
Final Update: The Texans have an unexpected absence in linebacker Benardrick McKinney, which will hurt because he is their top linebacker, but that’s nothing compared to the Jaguars, who will be without their top cornerback, linebacker, and edge rusher, with all three questionable players being unable to go. With top slot cornerback DJ Hayden ruled out earlier in the week, the Jaguars have an absolute sieve of a defense right now and, in fact, are the lowest rated defense in my roster rankings in any single week over the past 3 years. This will be a shootout, but one the Texans should win with relative ease, so I’m comfortable laying the 5.5.
Houston Texans 38 Jacksonville Jaguars 28
Pick against the spread: Houston -5.5