New England Patriots at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (4-5) at Houston Texans (2-7)

The Patriots pulled off the upset last week, beating the Ravens last week by final score of 23-17. That was a shocking result to people who left the Patriots for dead after a four game losing streak and a near defeat to the Jets, but I wasn’t overly surprised. Not only were the Ravens missing key players that made them much less than the dominant team we’re used to them being over the past year or so, but the Patriots were also much better than most people thought. Of their five losses, only one of them was a game in which they were uncompetitive and they could have easily picked up victories on the road in Seattle and Buffalo, to go with their double digit home victories over capable teams in the Dolphins and Raiders.

People are taking the Patriots more seriously after last week’s win over the Ravens, with this line shifting from favoring Houston by 2.5 to favoring the Patriots by 1.5, but line movement within the field goals like that isn’t all that valuable and I think the Patriots are still underrated. The Patriots rank 13th first down rate differential at +0.74% and that’s despite the fact that their starting quarterback dealt with illness and possibly injury for a couple weeks, their top cornerback Stephon Gilmore missed 3 games, and they’ve had a variety of injuries on the offensive line. With Newton healthy, Gilmore back in the lineup, and their offensive line being one of the best in the league now back at full strength, the Patriots rank 8th in my roster rankings, so they’re no pushover.

Even better for the Patriots’ projection going forward, their problems have been primarily concentrated on defense, which is the much more inconsistent side of the ball, as they rank 6th in first down rate over expected, but just 22nd in first down rate allowed over expected. Even on sheer regression, I would expect this Patriots’ defense to be better going forward, but getting players like Gilmore and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (returned last week) back from injury and having Bill Belichick as head coach/de facto defensive coordinator makes it even more likely that we’ll see better defensive play from them going forward. If that’s the case and their offense can remain efficient with Newton, a strong offensive line, a strong running game, and Jakobi Myers stepping up as a downfield target in the passing game, this could be a dangerous team the rest of the way, even if it’s possibly too late for them to climb back into a playoff spot.

Given that, the Patriots should be favored by more than 1.5 points here in a matchup with a Texans team that ranks 29th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.43%. The Texans have lost to quality opponents in all of their losses, but they haven’t been overly competitive with those quality opponents and their only two victories have come against the Jaguars, the second one coming in a competitive game in which the Jaguars had a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion late. My roster rankings have them significantly higher than that and they could be better going forward if they can underachieve less than they have, but they also aren’t well coached and even if they do play up to their talent level, they’re just 18th in my roster rankings, so they’re a good amount behind the Patriots. 

Much like all of the Texans other games against quality opponents, the Texans are likely to lose this one and it possibly won’t be competitive. The Texans will have some fans in the stadium, which will give them somewhat of a boost, but in a game the Patriots basically just need to win to cover, I like their chances of covering a good amount. The one thing that concerns me with betting the Patriots is they could be a little flat after such a big win last week (teams cover at a 41.3% rate after a home upset victory as underdogs of 5 points or more), but there is still enough here for the Patriots to be bet confidently.

Update: Laremy Tunsil will be out for the Texans with an illness, which is a huge blow to the Texans’ offense. This line has climbed to 1.5 or even 2 in some places, but as long as this line is under a field goal, I like the Patriots a lot this week.

New England Patriots 30 Houston Texans 24

Pick against the spread: New England -1.5

Confidence: High

Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (2-6) at Cleveland Browns (5-3)

The Browns are 5-3, but their 5 wins have come by a combined 42 points, while their 3 losses have come by a combined 73 points, giving them a point differential of -31 which ranks 24th in the league. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns have been even worse, ranking 27th at -1.56%. However, there is reason to believe they can be better than that going forward. 

For one, their issues have been concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.96%, while their offense ranks 9th in first down rate over expected at +1.39%. Defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and my roster rankings suggest the Browns have significantly underperformed their talent level on defense, so I would expect them to be better on that side of the ball going forward, possibly a lot better.

On offense, meanwhile, the Browns are getting significantly healthier. Wide receiver Odell Beckham isn’t coming back, but quarterback Baker Mayfield played at less than 100% for much of the first half of the season and the Browns also get a trio of starters back from absences coming out of their bye this week, with running back Nick Chubb, right guard Wyatt Teller, and tight end Austin Hooper returning from absences of 4 games, 3 games, and 2 games respectively. All three players are key players, especially Chubb and Teller, who led the way for this dominant rushing attack earlier in the season, and with them back in the lineup, the Browns figure to be even better offensively in the second half of the season.

In their first game out of the bye, the Browns will host the Texans, which should be a relatively easy matchup. The Texans have faced above average teams all of their losses, but they’ve lost by an average of 13.4 points per game, while their two wins have come by an average of 9.0 points per game, both against a Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league. They rank 30th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.15% and, though they are better than that in my roster rankings, they aren’t well coached and could easily continue to underachieve. Unfortunately, we’re not getting much line value with the Browns at -4 (my calculated line is Cleveland -6), but the Browns should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Cleveland Browns 30 Houston Texans 24

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -4

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (1-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)

It may seem strange to see a 1-win Texans team favored by 6.5 points in this game in Jacksonville, but this is the 19th time in the past 30 seasons that a team with 1 win or fewer has been favored by 6.5 points or more in week 6 or later, so it’s not unheard of. The previous 18 teams are 9-9 ATS, which isn’t a reason to bet the Texans, but it shows we shouldn’t be afraid of betting them, because when teams with poor records are big favorites, it’s generally for a good reason.

That definitely is the case in this matchup. The Texans may only have one win, but they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, with their one easy matchup resulting in a 30-14 blowout victory over these Jaguars in week 5. The Texans are -2.22% in first down rate differential even when adjusted for schedule, but they’re an offensive led team, which is a good sign for their chances going forward, as offense tends to be much more consistent week-to-week than defense. If the Texans can even be a middling defensive team going forward, they should be a competitive football team.

The Jaguars have also been better on offense than defense and their defense should be better going forward because they have players like defensive end Josh Allen, linebacker Myles Jack, cornerback CJ Henderson, and safety Jarrod Wilson returning from injuries, but their defense still has a long way to go to be respectable, having ranked dead last in first down rate allowed over expected at -5.25%. On top of that, the Jaguars offense should take a hit going forward, as long as starting quarterback Gardiner Minshew is out with injury.

Minshew hasn’t been a great quarterback, but, similar to Ryan Fitzpatrick with the Dolphins last year, he’s kept a bottom tier roster competitive in games where they otherwise would have been blown out. Now without him, the Jaguars could resemble what the 2019 Dolphins looked like with Josh Rosen under center, when they were regularly losing by several scores. Sixth round rookie Jake Luton is very raw and figures to struggle mightily, bringing down an offense that hasn’t been horrible, ranking 24th in first down rate over expected at -1.24%. With Luton under center, the Jaguars are in serious trouble on both sides of the ball, even against a middling at best team like the Texans.

The Texans are also in a great spot as big road favorites off of a bye, as teams are 54-28 ATS as regular season road favorites of 3.5 or more after a bye over the past 30 years. The Jaguars are coming off of a bye as well, but, as a bad team, they won’t benefit as much from it and road favorites of 3.5 or more are 13-8 ATS off of a bye even when their opponents are also coming off of a bye. This isn’t a big play, but I have the Texans calculated at -8.5 even before taking into account their good spot, so they’re worth a play at 6.5. I would expect them to win by at least a touchdown.

Houston Texans 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Houston -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (4-1) at Houston Texans (1-5)

The Texans are just 1-5, but they’ve faced arguably the toughest schedule in the league, with 4 games against teams with 1 loss or fewer (Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, Titans), and they’ve still played three of their five losses within one score, including 4th quarter leads over the undefeated Steelers and Titans. Of their two games against teams with losing records, one was against a Vikings team that is significantly better than its record and the other was an easy win over the Jaguars. I didn’t think the Texans were any better than a middling team entering the season, but I don’t think they’re much worse now. Adjusting for schedule, they have a first down rate differential of -1.06%.

The Texans have another tough game this week with the 4-1 Packers coming to town, but I would argue the Packers are behind all four of the aforementioned teams with one loss or fewer. The Packers’ blowout defeat in Tampa Bay last week is a significantly worse loss than any loss by any of the four other teams and even going into that game the Packers ranked just 11th in first down rate differential at +2.63%, due to a defense that ranks among the worst in the league in first down rate allowed. Now, the Packers aren’t far ahead of the Texans in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +0.14%.

Making matters worse, the Packers will be without stud left tackle David Bakhtiari, talented safety Darnell Savage, and possibly running back Aaron Jones. Jones’ absence wouldn’t be as big of a deal as most think because the Packers are deep at running back, but I still have this game close to 50/50 regardless of whether or not Jones plays, so we’re getting great line value with the Texans at +3.5. They might not pull the straight up upset, but about a quarter of games are decided by a field goal or less, so I like getting the 3.5 point cushion. This figures to be a shootout and the most likely outcome is either side winning by a field goal, two scenarios that would both lead to a Texans cover.

Green Bay Packers 34 Houston Texans 33

Pick against the spread: Houston +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (1-4) at Tennessee Titans (4-0)

This is a tough one, as there are good arguments for both sides. On one hand, this line has shifted significantly since the early line last week, with the Titans going from being favored by 7 to being favored by 3.5. Normally I like to fade significant week-to-week line movements because they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. In this case, the line movement actually comes despite the Titans winning big over another good team in the Buffalo Bills, running away with the 42-16 victory on Tuesday Night Football last week, despite being without starting cornerback Kristian Fulton, starting wide receivers Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, and defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons, who are all expected back this week. The Texans also had a big win last week, but it came over the Jaguars and I’ve never seen a line drop like this despite the favored team winning big the previous week.

On the other hand, you could make a good case for this line being right. The Texans are 1-4, but they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the league this season, starting the season with arguably the three best teams in the AFC in the Ravens, Steelers, and Chiefs and a Vikings team that is better than their record, before their blowout victory in their first easy game of the season against the Jaguars last week. The Texans rank 16th in my roster rankings and realistically are a middling team that just got dealt a tough schedule to start the season.

The Titans, meanwhile, started the season with one of the easiest schedules in the league over their first 3 games and they won those games by just a combined 6 points. That, of course, changed last week against the Bills, but the Titans might have benefitted from the extended rest in that game, while the Bills played the previous week. This time around, the Titans will have to play on a short week after just playing on a Tuesday, while the Texans will be on normal rest. My calculated line is Tennessee -4.5, as the Titans do have a top-10 roster on paper when healthy, but I’m actually going to go with the Texans for pick ‘em purposes because of the scheduling angle. I could really go either way on this one though.

Tennessee Titans 33 Houston Texans 30

Pick against the spread: Houston +3.5

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (0-3) at Houston Texans (0-3)

Both of these teams qualified for the post-season last year, but they’ve both gotten off to 0-3 starts that will make it tough for them to make it back to the post-season, even with an extra wild card spot being added. With both teams desperately wanting to avoid going 0-4, this will be essentially a must win game for both teams. A lot of attention has been given to the brutal start to their season that the Texans have had schedule wise, as they’ve faced the Ravens, Chiefs, and Steelers, but the Vikings’ schedule hasn’t been much easier, as they’ve faced the Packers, Colts, and Titans. 

The Vikings have also outplayed the Texans. While the Texans have ranked 27th in first down rate differential at -4.45%, the Vikings have actually ranked 11th at +2.76%, with their struggles being primarily due to a -5 turnover margin that is the third worst in the NFL. Turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Vikings won’t necessarily continue struggling with turnovers just because they have in the first three games and they’ve had some other fluky things go against them as well, including teams making 12 of 12 field goals against them and converting 4 for 4 on 4th down (as opposed to 0 for 2 for the Vikings).

Despite the Vikings’ early edge and the fact that the Texans won’t have a normal homefield advantage, the Texans are favored by 3.5 points at home. Given that about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, this line is way too high. My calculated line is Houston -1, so Minnesota is worth a small bet this week. The two most likely outcomes of this game are either team winning by a field goal, two results that would both be covers for the Texans.

Houston Texans 24 Minnesota Vikings 23

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (0-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)

The Texans are off to an 0-2 start, which is not a surprise, as their season began in pretty much the most difficult way imaginable, with games against the Chiefs and Ravens. The bigger concern is that the Texans weren’t particularly competitive in either game, losing by a combined 31 points and having a first down rate differential of -5.79% across the two games, 5th worst in the NFL through 2 weeks. Also concerning is that their schedule doesn’t immediately get easier, with a trip to Pittsburgh on deck.

The Steelers haven’t really been tested yet in their 2-0 start, but I had them as a top-10 team coming into the season and they’re getting healthier, with stud right guard David DeCastro set to return, which will give them a big boost upfront. I have them 6th in my roster rankings right now, about 4.5 points above the Texans. Adding two points for reduced homefield advantage, I have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -6.5, so we’re getting some line value with them as only 4-point favorites.

That being said, I wouldn’t recommend betting the Steelers, because the Texans are in a good spot. Not only are the Texans in desperate need of a win at 0-2, while the Steelers are 2-0, the Steelers also have a much tougher game on deck with the also 2-0 Titans in Tennessee, while the Texans will be hosting the also 0-2 Vikings in Houston. Underdogs are 78-38 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs and all three of those conditions should be true here. I’m taking the Steelers for pick ‘em purposes, but I’m not confident.

Pittsburgh Steelers 28 Houston Texans 23

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -4

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (1-0) at Houston Texans (0-1)

This is a tough one. On one hand, you can definitely make the argument that the Texans are a good enough team that they shouldn’t be home underdogs of this many points (7.5) against anyone and this line has swung pretty significantly in the past week, from 5.5 on the early line last week to 7.5 this week. My roster rankings have the Texans calculated as 4 point underdogs, even factoring in diminished homefield advantage, so from that standpoint, we’re getting some line value. On the other hand, the Ravens are on a truly otherworldly run in their last 9 meaningful regular season games dating back to last season and it might be foolish to go against them regardless of the line, as my roster rankings may not adequately take into account how well the Ravens have played since about the middle of last season. 

Dating back to last year’s week 8 bye, the Ravens have a ridiculous +15.50% first down rate differential and a +205 point differential in their last 9 meaningful regular season games. That would be impressive if a team did it in a full season, let alone in 9 games (22.8 points per game). The Ravens lost right guard Marshal Yanda and safety Earl Thomas this off-season, a pair of key players from last year’s team, so I thought we might be able to get some value going against them early this season, but they didn’t seem to miss them win they posted the league’s best first down rate differential (+17.39%) in their week one blowout victory over the Browns.

The Ravens did lose in the first round in the playoffs last year, after resting their starters in a meaningless week 17 game, but they didn’t play as badly as the 28-12 final score suggested, as the game swung entirely on the Ravens -3 turnover margin and 0 for 4 on fourth down, two highly inconsistent metrics and two things highly uncharacteristic of this Ravens’ team. The Ravens lost the first down rate battle in that game (their only instance of doing so since week 7 of last season), but only by 3.24% and it came against a Titans team that was legitimately one of the best in the league last season. If I had to make a pick against the spread for pick ‘em purposes, I would take the Texans just because they are a solid team and they have so much room for cushion as 7.5 point underdogs, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Texans played a good game and still lost by multiple scores.

Baltimore Ravens 27 Houston Texans 20

Pick against the spread: Houston +7.5

Confidence: None

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (0-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (0-0)

The 2020 NFL season is underway, with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs playing host to the Houston Texans, a team they defeated 51-31 in the AFC divisional round, en route to their Super Bowl victory. This season will be unlike any other, with pandemic restrictions significantly reducing stadium capacity, in many cases down to zero. In the MLB, we’ve seen next to no benefit to being the home team in front of an empty stadium, with the average MLB home team actually being outscored by 0.02 runs per game, when teams normally have an advantage of 0.15 runs per game at home. 

There is established sleep science that sleeping in a familiar bed leads to enhanced performance, so I wouldn’t say there will be no homefield advantage this season, especially with there being some fans in attendance in many markets, and with home teams having access to fake crowd noise to try to make life more difficult for opposing offenses, but it is clear that the standard three point advantage for homefield can’t be used this season. Instead, I would recommend something in the 1-1.5 point range, depending on whether or not limited fans are allowed.

They will be in this one, with up to 16,000 fans joining the Chiefs in celebrating their Super Bowl victory. Super Bowl winners normally do pretty well in their first game back, especially at home, going 10-4-1 ATS since 2004, but this line seems pretty inflated, favoring the Chiefs by 9.5 points. If the Chiefs defense plays like it did down the stretch last season, this line is justifiable, but their defensive talent is suspect outside of their top guys, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they regressed back to their early 2019 season form. I wouldn’t recommend betting on the Texans, who are in worse shape than they were last season, but there’s more value taking the points for pick ‘em purposes. You can read more in depth on both teams and others in my season previews.

Kansas City Chiefs 31 Houston Texans 23

Pick against the spread: Houston +9.5

Confidence: None