Houston Texans (0-0-1) at Denver Broncos (0-1)
Coming into the season, I had the Texans as one of the worst teams in the league. They looked improved from a year ago, but not significantly improved and the Texans were even worse than their 4-13 record suggested a year ago. They lost the first down rate and yards per play battle in 3 of their 4 wins and had an average margin of defeat of 17.2 points per game in their 13 losses, leading to them ranking dead last in efficiency rating by over 5 points over the next worst team the Jacksonville Jaguars, who happened to be the only team against whom they won the first down rate and yards per play battle all season.
The Texans tied their first game of the 2022 season against the Colts, but they lost the first down rate battle by +8.09% and the yards per play battle by +1.35, only playing to a tie because they won the turnover and special teams battles, which are much less predictable than yards and first downs. That game was also at home against a Colts team that is below average without their top defensive player Shaq Leonard. I would still count the Texans among the worst few teams in the league.
Making matters worse, teams typically don’t fare well off of a tie, covering the spread at just a 43.3% the following week, including 31.2% when on the road like the Texans are this week in Denver. The Broncos, meanwhile, are coming off of a close road loss in Seattle, which actually should put them in a good spot, given how their quarterback Russell Wilson has fared off of a loss in his career, going 33-16 ATS the following week.
However, I don’t think that loss in Seattle was a total fluke. The Seahawks did have the emotional edge playing against their former quarterback at home on Monday Night Football, but the Broncos’ defense was always unlikely to be as good as it was a year ago without former head coach Vic Fangio, which was something that was left out of the analysis of this team by many this off-season, preferring to focus on their offensive improvement with Wilson and new head coach Nathaniel Hackett. The Broncos’ defensive woes will get even worse without safety Justin Simmons, who will miss the next few weeks with injury, leaving them without probably their best defensive player. They could also be without their top linebacker Josey Jewell for the second straight week.
Despite those injuries and last week’s results, this line has barely moved since a week ago, moving from Denver -10.5 only down to -10. I’m still taking the Broncos for pick ‘em purposes because they’re in a better spot, but if Jewell is out, we’re not getting any line value at all with the Broncos, so I can’t take them with any confidence. If Jewell plays, I may bump this up to a low confidence pick, but I can’t see myself betting the Broncos as 10-point favorites in any circumstance this week.
Denver Broncos 31 Houston Texans 20
Pick against the spread: Denver -10