Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (10-5) at Houston Texans (4-11)

I was hoping we would get the Titans at a discount this week after last week’s 40-14 loss in Green Bay. The Titans looked ugly in that game, losing the first down rate battle by 14.91%, but it’s likely they knew they could still win the division with a win over the lowly Texans this week and simply stopped trying once they got down multiple scores against the Packers in the snow. I expect a much better effort this week with the division on the line and their defense should be better than it was earlier in the season now that they have top cornerback Adoree Jackson back from injury. 

Unfortunately, we’re not getting that discount and, in fact, this line has soared from Tennessee -4.5 on the early line last week to Tennessee -7.5 this week. The Texans had an ugly result last week too, losing at home to the Bengals, and it seems that’s what the oddsmakers and public took more notice of. With that in mind, I’m actually going to take the Texans this week, albeit for a no confidence pick. Tennessee -7.5 is right where I have this line, but there’s a chance the Titans could choke with the division on the line, as teams with a winning percentage between 50% and 67% cover at just a 40.8% rate as favorites against teams with a sub-.500 winning percentage in weeks 16 or 17. 

That’s not enough to take the Texans with any confidence, as they’re one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 25th in my roster rankings, with key players missing on both sides of the ball (Will Fuller, Laremy Tunsil, Bradley Roby, Whitney Mercilus, Justin Reid, among others), while the Titans have the kind of dominant offense (6th in first down rate over expected at +2.02%) that correlates well with long-term success, but I would give the Texans the slight edge if you have to pick a side.

Tennessee Titans 31 Houston Texans 24

Pick against the spread: Houston +7.5

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (3-12-1) at Houston Texans (4-10)

Neither side is particularly appealing in this matchup. The Bengals pulled a massive upset over the Steelers last week as 14.5-point underdogs, but big upset wins like that tend to be flukes that don’t lead to further success down the line. Teams cover at a 40.9% rate after a win as underdogs of 10 points or more, including 4-13 ATS over the past 30 seasons after a win as underdogs of 14 points or more. The Bengals’ win last week was the equivalent of their Super Bowl, so there will almost definitely be some hangover effect this week. On the other hand, the Texans are coming off of a crushing last second loss to the Colts and have a much tougher game against the Titans next week, so they may overlook the last place Bengals. 

Favorites cover at just a 45.2% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 40%. Despite the Bengals’ upset win, this line hasn’t really shifted much from the early line last week (-8.5 to -7.5) and I think we’re still getting a little bit of line value with the Bengals, as the Texans are slightly overrated, now missing several key players (Will Fuller, Bradley Roby, Justin Reid, among others) that they weren’t missing earlier this season. For that reason, I’m taking the Bengals for pick ‘em purposes, but it’s hard to be confident in one of the worst teams in the league, following a massive upset win in their Super Bowl.

Houston Texans 27 Cincinnati Bengals 21

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +7.5

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-9) at Indianapolis Colts (9-4)

The Texans nearly beat the Colts two weeks ago, losing by 6 after a botched goal line snap at the end of the game when the Texans had a chance to score a game winning touchdown. That loss effectively ended the Texans’ season and they played like it last week, showing minimal effort in a 36-7 loss to a middling at best Bears team. Now playing the Colts again, I would expect a much better effort from the Texans this week. 

The Colts, meanwhile, could easily be flat, having already beaten the Texans, with a much tougher game against the Steelers on deck, while the Texans only have the lowly Bengals on deck. Favorites cover at just a 43.4% rate against opponents with a 35% winning percentage or worse when they next play an opponent with a winning percentage higher than 70% and when their opponent next plays an opponent with a winning percentage or 35% or less. On top of that, favorites cover at a 42.9% rate when their next opponent has a winning percentage 50%+ higher than their current opponent.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting the line value we need with the Texans for them to be worth betting. The Texans were somewhat capable earlier in the year, but the injuries are starting to pile up, most notably two of their top-3 pass catchers (Will Fuller and Randall Cobb) and their top-2 defensive backs (Bradley Roby and Justin Reid). My calculated line is Indianapolis -8, although that would change if gametime decision DeForest Buckner is ruled out, as he’s one of the Colts most important players. If that happens, I may consider betting on the Texans, but if he plays, there isn’t nearly enough here.

Update: Buckner is playing. The line has shifted to 7.5, but I still have no desire to bet on the Texans, as my calculated line is Indianapolis -9.5 with Buckner in the lineup.

Indianapolis Colts 27 Houston Texans 20

Pick against the spread: Houston +7.5

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-8) at Chicago Bears (5-7)

The Bears haven’t been a particularly appealing team to pick this season. They started the season 5-1, but all five of their wins were by one score or less and they’ve since lost six straight games. A lot of their losses have been close on the scoreboard, but some of those results looked better than the Bears played, as they were down 16 points to the Colts, 21 points to the Titans, and 21 points to the Rams before some meaningless late scores, while their 6-point loss to the Vikings came in a game in which the Bears got at least 8 points of benefit from their special teams. 

Including a 41-25 loss to the Packers, that’s five of seven losses that were not competitive, while all of their wins could have been losses. On top of that, the success that the Bears have had this season has been on defense, where they rank 7th in first down rate allowed over expected, while their offense ranks 30th in first down rate over expected, and offensive performance tends to be much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance, which makes the Bears an even more unappealing pick going forward.

All that being said, I am going to pick the Bears this week as 1.5-point home underdogs against the Texans. The Texans are a capable team on paper, ranking 19th in my roster rankings, ahead of the 26th ranked Bears, but so much of that is dependent on star quarterback Deshaun Watson playing at an elite level and the Texans have not played up to their overall talent level, ranking 27th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.30%, with below average play on both sides of the ball, in large part due to poor coaching. 

The Texans could be even worse than that going forward if they don’t stop underachieving, as they lost top wide receiver Will Fuller and top cornerback Bradley Roby for the season with PED suspensions two weeks ago. This also isn’t a good spot for the Texans, as they were effectively eliminated last week with a last second loss to the Colts, a division rival the Texans will get another shot at next week when they play them for the second time in three games. It could be hard for the Texans to be fully focused for a sub-.500 non-conference opponent, while the Bears are somehow still only a game out of the playoffs in the NFC. There isn’t enough here for the Bears’ money line to be worth betting, but I do think they will win and that they should be slightly favored, so the money line at +115 is worth a small play.

Chicago Bears 24 Houston Texans 23 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Chicago +1.5

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (7-4) at Houston Texans (4-7)

The Colts are 7-4, but there are reasons for concern. For one, they’ve faced a pretty easy schedule thus far this season. In fact, in terms of first down rate differential, the Colts have faced the easiest schedule in the league. With that in mind, their 7-4 record isn’t as impressive. In schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Colts are about a middling team, ranking 16th at +0.20%. On top of that, they’ve been a better defensive team than offensive team, ranking 11th in first down rate allowed over expected, but just 20th in first down rate over expected, which is a concern because offensive play tends to be more consistent week-to-week. 

The Colts are also starting to lose key players to injury and illness after being relatively healthy through the first half of the season. Last week, they missed defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and center Ryan Kelly against the Titans and, while both will be back this week, the Colts now have lost left tackle Anthony Castonzo, which is also a big blow. The Texans, who the Colts face this week, are missing some key players as well, losing top wide receiver Will Fuller and top cornerback Bradley Roby to suspension, but my roster rankings still have the Colts just 2.5-3 points better than the Texans, giving us a calculated line of Indianapolis -1, with the Texans at least having some fans in attendance for this one. 

I locked this line in at 3.5 earlier this week and, while 2.5 points might not seem like a huge deal, it’s a bigger deal than you might think, as about 1 in 4 games are decided by 1-3 points. The Texans are also in a better spot, as the Colts have a game that will be very important for their playoff implications on deck, in Las Vegas against the Raiders, while the Texans have a relatively meaningless out of conference game in Chicago. I like the Texans a lot at 3.5 and, even if you didn’t lock this line in at 3.5, I would recommend a smaller bet at 3 as well. The money line is also worth betting as well, as the Texans could easily pull the upset.

Houston Texans 24 Indianapolis Colts 23 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Houston +3.5

Confidence: High

Houston Texans at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (3-7) at Detroit Lions (4-6)

There was no early line posted for this game last week, with Matt Stafford’s status somewhat uncertain due to a thumb injury, but it’s unlikely if the oddsmakers knew that Stafford would be able to play through the injury that this line would have been posted at Houston -3 a week ago, but that’s where it is right now, in the wake of the Texans’ victory over the Patriots as small home underdogs and the Lions’ 20-0 loss in Carolina to a backup quarterback. 

Normally, I like to fade significant week-to-week line movements as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play, but the Lions are very banged up, beyond Stafford being less than 100%, and, even when they were healthier, they weren’t that good, ranking 29th in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential on the season at -3.21%, with their only win by more than a field goal coming against an awful Jaguars team. The Lions were mispriced as field goal favorites in Carolina last week, so the Lions likely would have been mispriced on the early line as well.

The Lions aren’t any healthier this week, with top wide receiver Kenny Golladay (6th game missed), top slot receiver Danny Amendola (2nd game missed), starting guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai (4th game missed), top interior defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand (2nd game missed), top edge defensive lineman Trey Flowers (4th game missed), and starting cornerback Jeff Okudah (2nd game missed) all out, so it’s understandable why this line is where it is. My calculated line is Houston -2, so we’re still getting slight line value with Detroit +3, as the Texans still rank just 28th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.50%, but it’s hard to be confident at all in Detroit if we don’t know how well Stafford is going to be able to play through his injury on a short week. A push is a strong possibility as well.

Houston Texans 27 Detroit Lions 24

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: None

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