Houston Texans at New England Patriots: 2016 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Houston Texans (10-7) at New England Patriots (14-2)

The Patriots are 16 point favorites here in this matchup with the Houston Texans, the first time a team has been favored by that many points in the playoffs since the 1998 Minnesota Vikings blew out the Arizona Cardinals 41-21 as 16 point home favorites in the divisional round of the playoffs that season. Not only are they the largest playoff favorites in two decades, it’s also hard to argue that they don’t deserve it. The Texans snuck into the playoffs because of close wins and a weak division, winning the AFC South with just 9 wins (4-6 in non-divisional games), despite a -49 point differential that was easily worst among playoff teams (7th worst in the entire NFL). They lucked out in their first playoff matchup, getting to host the Oakland Raiders and 3rd string quarterback Connor Cook, but now they enter the round of 8 as easily the worst team left facing arguably the best team in the entire NFL.

The Patriots had easily the most impressive regular season of any team in the league. They have the best point differential (+191) and first down rate differential (+5.90%) of any team in the post-season, despite not even having Tom Brady for the first 4 games of the season. One of those 4 games was against these Texans, who they defeated 27-0 week 3, despite being down to 3rd string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. With Brady back, the Patriots have obvious advantages on both sides of the ball. I mentioned earlier that almost all of the Texans regular seasons wins were close (9 wins by a total of 44 points). In addition to that, a lot of their losses were not close (7 losses by a total of 93 points).

I also mentioned earlier that they struggle outside of the division. That was especially bad on the road outside of the division, losing all 5 road non-divisional games, by an average of 15.6 points per game. These Patriots are better than any team they’ve faced this year though and should be able to win this one easy. I’ve flipped back and forth between Houston +16 and New England -16, but I’ve ultimately decided on New England, though I could see this being a 14-point game that isn’t as close as the final score suggests. The Patriots played a weak schedule in the regular season and are more vulnerable than most people realize, but the schedule isn’t really getting any harder this week. It’s a no confidence play either way because I have no interest in betting on Houston here, but I don’t really want to lay 16 points either.

New England Patriots 27 Houston Texans 10

Pick against the spread: New England -16

Confidence: None

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Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans: 2016 NFL Wild Card Round Pick

Oakland Raiders (12-4) at Houston Texans (9-7)

The Texans won the AFC South and will host a home playoff game, but they had probably the worst regular season of any team that made the playoffs. Their 9 wins came by a combined 44 points with their biggest margin of victory being 9 points, back in a 23-14 week 1 victory over the Chicago Bears, who ended the season with 3 wins. Their 7 losses, meanwhile, came by a combined 93 points, giving them a -49 point differential, 7th worst in the NFL, right between non-playoff teams Carolina and Jacksonville. They also enter the post-season 7th worst in the NFL in first down rate differential and with a -10 offensive touchdown differential, 5th worst in the league. Their 23 offensive touchdowns scored were the lowest in the league by any team, but they were able to make the playoffs thanks to a weak division and a lot of close wins, as well as a capable, but far from elite defense.

The Texans luck out again though, as they get probably the easiest playoff matchup they could have gotten. The Raiders won 12 games, but enter the playoffs in about as bad of an injury situation as possible. After hardly having any injuries to starters this season, the Raiders are now without starting quarterback Derek Carr and probably Donald Penn, their valuable blindside protector and one of the best left tackles in the league. Those are two major blows to their offense. Connor Cook will make the start for the Raiders this week, even though he’s a 4th round rookie who has never made a start in his career, making him the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first NFL start in the post-season.

Cook played about a half last week against Denver, in relief of Matt McGloin, a veteran backup who struggled before leaving the game with a shoulder injury. Cook outplayed McGloin, but only by default. He’s also only seen practice reps the past two weeks because he was the 3rd string quarterback until Carr went down and 3rd string quarterbacks don’t practice during the week. He even admitted after last week’s game that he was calling plays he didn’t know. He’ll get a full week with the first team in practice this week, but he’s still in a very tough situation. McGloin is expected to be active this week as the backup, meaning we could easily see both quarterbacks in this one if Cook struggles early.

Even before the injury, the Raiders were not as good as their record.  Eight of their 12 victories have come by 7 points or fewer, including a 5-0 record in games decided by a field goal or less and they have a point differential of just +31, just behind non-playoff teams in the Eagles and Ravens (both at +36). That’s despite the fact that the Raiders have a league best +16 turnover margin. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and, if we assumed turnover neutral football for them going forward, which we always should, it was hard to see them advancing deep in the playoffs even with Carr. I’m taking them as 4 point underdogs in Houston because of how many close games the Texans have played this year (4 wins by 4 points or fewer), but the Raiders, without Carr and Penn, are one of the worst teams in the league, so I can’t take them with any sort of confidence, even as bad as Houston is.

Houston Texans 16 Oakland Raiders 13

Pick against the spread: Oakland +4

Confidence: None

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Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (9-6) at Tennessee Titans (8-7)

The Titans had a week from hell last week. Not only did they suffer their biggest loss of the season, losing 38-17 in Jacksonville of all places (previously their biggest loss this season was by 9), but they also lost starting quarterback Marcus Mariota with a broken leg that figures to sideline him well into the off-season. It’s really a shame because a healthy Titans team could have been some noise in the post-season. Even after last week’s loss to an admittedly underrated Jaguars team, they still rank 8th in first down rate differential as they have 2 more first downs and a whopping 10 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents on the season. Only New England, Dallas, and Atlanta have a better offensive touchdown margin on the season than the Titans. The only reason they’re just 8-7 is they have a league worst -8 margin in return touchdowns, but that’s more bad luck than anything. Outside of those 8 snaps, they’ve outplayed their opponents for the most part this season, which is why they rank 8th in first down rate differential.

The Texans, meanwhile, have already won the division, despite ranking 26th in first down rate differential and allowing 10 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve scored. Their 21 offensive touchdowns are the fewest in the entire NFL. Their 9 wins have come by a combined 44 points and their 6 losses have come by a combined 86 points, giving them a point differential of -42, 7th worst in the NFL and easily the worst among playoff teams or potential playoff teams. Even with veteran backup Matt Cassel under center instead of the promising young Mariota, the Titans are at least a comparable team to the Texans. Cassel might even still be the best quarterback in this game, as Tom Savage is starting for the Texans and his biggest accomplishment through 2 games is being just a little bit less terrible than free agent mega-bust Brock Osweiler was.

The problem is this line only moved from 4.5 to 3 for the big Tennessee loss and Mariota injury, because the odds makers seem to think the Texans are going to rest starters, given that they’re locked into the #4 seed regardless of the outcome of this game. They’ll rest injured starters like running back Lamar Miller and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but they didn’t rest any starters last year when they were locked into the 4th seed and they need to give quarterback Tom Savage all the reps he can get with the first team anyway, given that this is just his 3rd game of the season, so I don’t see them taking it easy on Tennessee. I’m taking the Titans even at 3, but I’m not confident enough to bet anything on it.

Tennessee Titans 20 Houston Texans 16

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3

Confidence: Low

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Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1) at Houston Texans (7-7)

The Bengals were expecting to get top wide receiver AJ Green back from injury this week, after a 4-game absence with a hamstring injury. Green even said he was playing this week. However, at the end of a lost season, after getting eliminated in a close loss to the Steelers last week, the Bengals have decided to shut Green down for the rest of the regular season. Green won’t be the only absent Cincinnati player this week either, as he’ll be joined by top linebacker Vontaze Burfict and tight end Tyler Eifert, their top pass catcher in Green’s absence. Despite that, this line has shifted from 3 on the early line last week to 2.5 this week. The Texans could be without starting running back Lamar Miller, but we’re still not really getting any line value with the Bengals anymore. They’re still the pick here, but this is a no confidence pick because a field goal Houston victory is definitely a strong possibility.

Houston Texans 17 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +2.5

Confidence: None

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Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: 2016 Week 15 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) at Houston Texans (7-6)

The Jaguars are on an 8-game losing streak and are coming off of one of their least impressive performances of the season, losing at home by 9 despite winning the turnover battle, against a Minnesota team that was missing their best defensive player, safety Harrison Smith. However, typically, it’s a good idea to bet on teams on long losing streaks, especially as road underdogs, as they tend to be undervalued. Road underdogs on a 7+ game losing streak are 56-30 ATS since 1989.

I think the Jaguars are definitely undervalued here as 6 point underdogs in Houston. The Texans are 7-6, but they aren’t winning big. Their 7 wins have come by a total of 41 points (an average of 5.86 points per game), while the 6 losses have come by a total of 86 points (an average of 14.33 points per game), giving them a -45 point differential that ranks just 26th in the NFL. The Jaguars, meanwhile, aren’t exactly getting blown out as their last 6 losses have come by a combined 41 points, an average of 6.83 points per game. The Texans are also probably the easiest opponent the Jaguars have faced in recent weeks. They lost by 3 to the Texans at home week 10, but other than that their last game that was easier than this was their win in Chicago week 6.

Even in that week 10 loss, the Jaguars won the first down battle 23-16 and moved the chains at a 4.74% higher rate. The Jaguars have actually won the first down battle on the season as well, as they rank 14th in first down rate differential, while the Texans rank 28th. Despite their 7-6 record, the Texans are -10 in offensive touchdown differential (4th worst in the NFL), while the Jaguars are just -4. The Jaguars’ -98 point differential is worse than Houston’s, but that’s largely because of a -17 turnover margin and turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis (on average a team with a +3 turnover margin in a game will have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week, the same average as teams that had a -3 turnover margin). Outside of those 17 snaps, the Jaguars have been the better team this season. I like the Jaguars a lot as 6 point road underdogs.

Houston Texans 17 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +6

Confidence: High

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Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts: 2016 Week 14 NFL Pick

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

The Colts are coming off of a huge 41-10 win over the Jets in New York on Monday Night Football. Typically, teams carry over strong performances on Monday Night into the following week, as teams are 40-23 ATS since 1989 off of a Monday Night Football win of 21 or more points. However, this line jumped significantly in the past week, from -4 in favor of Indianapolis on the early line last week to now -6.5, following Indianapolis’ huge win. As a result, we’d be getting no line value with the Colts.

With that in mind, I actually like the Texans this week, as they are in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 140-108 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 111-74 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 235-252 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.98 points per game, as opposed to 334-467 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.00 points per game. I’d need at least a touchdown to put money on the Texans, but they’re the pick here.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Houston Texans 20

Pick against the spread: Houston +6.5

Confidence: Low

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Houston Texans at Green Bay Packers: 2016 Week 13 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (6-5) at Green Bay Packers (5-6)

The Texans are 6-5, but their 6 wins have come by a combined 36 points, while their 5 losses have come by a combined 78 points, with none of them being closer than 7 points. As a result, they have a -42 point differential that ranks 26th in the NFL and they rank 27th in first down rate differential. The Packers, meanwhile, are coming off of a huge win in Philadelphia on Monday Night Football last week and, now healthier on defense than they’ve been in recent weeks, could be ready to go on a run. They enter this game 13th in rate of moving the chains differential and have more in common with the 5 teams that have beaten the Texans (New England, Minnesota, Denver, Oakland, San Diego) than the 6 teams that have lost to the Texans (Chicago, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Detroit, Jacksonville).

The Texans will also be without outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and John Simon with injury, leaving them very thin on the edge. The problem is we’re getting no line value with the Packers, as this line has shifted from 3.5 on the early line last week to 6.5 this week, as a result of Green Bay’s win in Philadelphia and Houston’s home loss to the Chargers. The Packers should be able to give the Texans another loss by 7+ points, but I couldn’t bet money at 6.5 with any sort of confidence. The Packers are the pick in pick ‘em polls, but this is a no confidence play.

Green Bay Packers 27 Houston Texans 20

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -6.5

Confidence: None

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