Denver Broncos at Houston Texans: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-8) at Houston Texans (8-4)

The Texans got a big win over the New England Patriots last week, but even with that game included, they haven’t played as well as their record would suggest in recent weeks. Dating back to week 7, the Texans rank just 23rd in the NFL in first down rate differential at -0.80%, in large part due to their defense struggling without the injured JJ Watt. They could also be a little flat this week, facing a 4-8 Broncos team, in between a big home upset victory and a key divisional matchup against the Titans next week.

The Broncos are better than their 4-8 record, led by a defense that ranks 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.40%. Their offense ranks just 30th in first down rate at 30.64%, but they still rank 22nd in first down rate differential at -1.76%, which is better than their record suggests, and they are starting a new quarterback in Drew Lock who has the most upside of any quarterback they’ve started this season. The second round rookie is raw in only his 2nd career start, but Joe Flacco is washed up and Brandon Allen is barely an NFL caliber passer, so it wouldn’t be hard for Lock to be their best quarterback yet this season. 

With a defense as good as theirs has been, the Broncos won’t be an easy matchup going forward if they can get decent quarterback play. Given that, I like the Broncos this week as 9-point underdogs in Houston, against a Texans team that has just one win by more than a touchdown all season. I’d need confirmation that Von Miller will play before locking in a bet on the Broncos, but Miller seems more likely to play than not, after missing last week with a knee injury, and they showed they’re still a strong defense without him last week in their win over the Chargers, so I like the Broncos for pick ‘em purposes even if Miller can’t go.

Final Update: Miller will play for the Broncos, while Will Fuller will be unable to go for the Texans. The line has moved down to 8, but neither 8 or 9 are key numbers, so that’s not that big of a deal. The Texans have just 2 wins by more than 8 points and the Broncos have just 3 losses by more than 8 points, so this should be a relatively close game. The Broncos aren’t in a great spot with a big game against the Chiefs on deck, but the Texans are probably in a worse spot, facing an 4-8 team in between a huge home upset victory and a key divisional matchup. My calculated line is Houston -6.5, which crosses the key number of 8, so I like the Broncos for a small bet this week.

Houston Texans 22 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +8

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Houston Texans: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (10-1) at Houston Texans (7-4)

Much was made early in the season about the Patriots’ weak schedule, but their schedule has definitely gotten tougher in recent weeks and their overall opponent’s winning percentage is now a respectable 48%. Despite the tougher schedule, the Patriots still rank very highly in first down rate differential at +6.81%, only behind the 49ers and Ravens, and they only have one loss, a 17-point loss in Baltimore that looks less embarrassing every time the Ravens take the field. The Patriots’ offense is a work in progress, but their defense is legitimately dominant and they’re clearly one of the top few teams in the league overall. 

The Patriots face another opponent with a winning record this week, but the Texans are not the same team without JJ Watt on the field and he’s out for the season with a torn pectoral. Without Watt, I have the Texans just 14th in my roster rankings. I have the Patriots calculated as 5.5 point favorites, so we’re getting line value with them at just 3.5. I would need this line to fall to an even field goal before gametime for the Patriots to be worth a bet, but it seems to be trending in that direction, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up updating this writeup before gametime.

New England Patriots 23 Houston Texans 17

Pick against the spread: New England -3.5

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-4) at Houston Texans (6-4)

This is a huge Thursday night game, as these two teams enter tied atop the AFC South. This line, favoring the hometown Texans by 3.5 points, suggests the Texans are the slightly better team. First down rate suggests that as well, as these two teams are close to even in that metric (+2.60% vs. +2.30%), but the Texans have faced the tougher schedule (5th in opponent’s DVOA vs. 27th). However, these two teams are going in different directions injury wise. While the Texans’ chances of making a deep playoff run took a big hit a few weeks ago when JJ Watt went down for the season with a torn pectoral, the Colts enter this game arguably healthier than they’ve been all season.

The Colts have had as many injuries to key players as any team in the league, as quarterback Jacoby Brissett, wide receiver TY Hilton, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, linebacker Darius Leonard, cornerbacks Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore, and safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers have all missed varying amounts of time with injury, but all eight of those players practiced in full on Wednesday and are expected to play this week, with both Desir and Hilton expected to play for the first time in about a month. Brissett was probably their biggest absence because the Colts barely lost both games in which he missed time. Most of the Colts’ wins have been close, but they could easily be 8-2 right now if Brissett hadn’t gotten hurt and something tells me the Colts would not be 3.5 point underdogs if they were 8-2.

The Colts aren’t 100% healthy, with running back Marlon Mack set to miss his first game of the season, but the Colts have enough running back depth to compensate and the Texans are also missing talented safety Justin Reid for the first time this season, a big loss. My roster rankings currently have the Colts about two points better than the Texans, which is a more accurate representation of how the talent level on these two teams compares. Given that, we’re getting good line value with the Colts as underdogs of more than a field goal (roughly 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer), so the Colts are worth betting this week.

I’m also locking in a few lines I like before the line moves. I will have full write-ups for these games and all games on Saturday as normal.

NYG +6 @ CHI

NYJ +3 vs. OAK

WAS +3.5 vs. DET

LAR +3.5 vs. BAL

Houston Texans 24 Indianapolis Colts 23

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (6-3) at Baltimore Ravens (7-2)

In a key matchup in the AFC, the Ravens enter one game better in the standings than the Texans, but the Texans have arguably the more impressive resume. These two teams are about even in first down rate differential, with the Ravens ranking 4th at +5.08% and the Texans ranking 5th at +4.67%, but the Texans have faced the 8th toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of opponents DVOA, while the Ravens have faced the 5th easiest. 

Unfortunately for the Texans, these two teams are trending in opposite directions. While the Ravens are improved on defense due to mid-season additions of Marcus Peters and Josh Bynes, the Texans lost their top defensive player JJ Watt for the season. The Ravens hold the slight edge in my roster rankings, suggesting this line favoring the Ravens by 4.5 points at home is about right. I have the Ravens calculated as 3.5 point favorites, but that’s insignificant line value with the Texans, who aren’t in a good spot with another key game on deck against the Colts on Thursday Night Football. The Texans are still my pick, but for no confidence.

Baltimore Ravens 31 Houston Texans 27

Pick against the spread: Houston +4.5

Confidence: None

Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (5-3) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4) in London

The Jaguars are back at .500 at 4-4 following their victory over the Jets last week, but they only rank 24th in first down rate differential at -2.60%, as they’ve allowed 4 more first downs and 3 more offensive touchdowns than they have gained on 18 fewer snaps. That rank is consistent with my roster rankings, which have the Jaguars ranked 26th. As much as Minshew Mania has taken over Jacksonville, this offense still ranks just 26th in first down rate differential and has generated just 15 touchdowns in 8 games, while their once dominant defense ranks just 11th in first down rate allowed and has just four of it’s top-14 in snaps played remaining from 2017.

The Texans, meanwhile, rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.41%, though the Jaguars are catching them at a good time because the Texans are very banged up right now. The big loss is obviously JJ Watt, who tore his pectoral last week, ending his season, but the Texans are also missing 3 of their top-5 in the secondary and could be without both left tackle Laremy Tunsil and right tackle Tytus Howard. In their current injury situation, the Texans rank 15th in my roster rankings, so we’re still getting some line value with them as 1.5-point favorites at a neutral site, but I would need at least Tunsil to play to bet them confidently. I will likely be updating this tomorrow morning.

Sunday Update: A few developments have happened since yesterday. Tunsil is inactive for the Texans, but the Jaguars will also be without DJ Hayden, who has arguably been their top cornerback this season, and starting wide receiver Dede Westbrook. Meanwhile, this line has shifted to Jacksonville -1. One point games aren’t that common (about 4%), but we’re getting good line value with the Texans at +1. This line suggests the Jaguars are the slightly better team on a neutral field, but I still have the Texans significant better in my roster rankings (16th vs. 26th) and I have this line calculated at Houston -4. The Texans are worth a small bet, even at less than 100%.

Houston Texans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Houston +1

Confidence: Medium

Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (3-3) at Houston Texans (4-3)

The Raiders are 3-3, but they’ve been far worse than their record, as their 3 wins came by a combined 18 points, while their 3 losses came by a combined 56 points, with none coming by fewer than 18 points. It was strange they were just 4.5 point underdogs in Green Bay last week and it’s strange that they are still just 6.5 point underdogs this week in Houston, even after losing by 18 points in Green Bay last week. This line hasn’t budged since the early line last week.

That is probably because the Texans lost on the road in Indianapolis, but that was a much closer game. The Texans are still one of the top teams in the league in first down rate differential, ranking 6th at +3.75% and they also rank 7th in my roster rankings. Meanwhile, the Raiders rank 25th in both first down rate (-3.26%) and in my roster rankings. This line should be around 10, so I’m happy to lay the 6.5 points.

Houston Texans 30 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: Houston -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-2) at Indianapolis Colts (3-2)

Typically, I like to go against significant week-to-week line movement, as it tends to be an overreaction to a single week of play. The Texans were 3-point underdogs in Indianapolis last week on the early line, but after their upset victory in Kansas City, they are now 1-point underdogs, significant as about 20% of games are decided by 2 or 3 points. However, I don’t think this line has moved enough.  The Texans, who are borderline a top-5 team, should be favored by at least a field goal in this game, as the Colts are incredibly banged up, especially on defense. 

The Colts are getting safety Clayton Geathers and linebacker Darius Leonard back off of a bye week, but they will be without top cornerback Kenny Moore, top safety Malik Hooker, starting defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, and possibly starting cornerback Pierre Desir, top edge rusher Justin Houston, and All-Pro offensive lineman Quinton Nelson, all three of whom did not practice on Friday, but have not been ruled out yet. The Texans are worth a bet this week and this could become a bigger play depending on who ends up being out for the Colts. 

Houston Texans 24 Indianapolis Colts 20

Pick against the spread: Houston +1

Confidence: Medium