San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (2-10) at Houston Texans (4-8)

Last week, the 49ers were 3 point underdogs in Chicago. I bet heavily on Chicago because I thought they were an underrated team, especially with middle linebacker Danny Trevathan back healthy, and that they were at least a few points better than the 49ers. However, the 49ers didn’t just cover. They also ended up pulling the upset victory on the road by final score of 15-14 and the game wasn’t even as close as the final score.

The 49ers had 5 scoring drives, but had to settle for field goals on all 5 occasions, while the Bears got just one scoring drive, but scored a touchdown on it and then got a punt return for their second touchdown. If they hadn’t returned that punt for a touchdown and if the 49ers had converted a couple of their long drives into touchdowns, it could have easily been a 10-15 point San Francisco win. The 49ers picked up 23 first downs to the Bears’ 8, as they dominated time of possession and won the first down rate battle by +6.51%.

I still think the Bears are an underrated team when healthy, but I think I clearly underestimated the 49ers. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo exceeded my expectations on the road against a tough defense in his first start with the 49ers, just a month after being acquired from the Patriots at the trade deadline. He doesn’t have the best supporting cast to work with, but he makes this offense much better and should only improve as he becomes more comfortable with the system and the players around him. It’s not just the addition of Garoppolo that’s made a big difference for this team though, as this team has been playing significantly better defense in recent weeks thanks to the return of stud rookie linebacker Reuben Foster from injury a few weeks back.

Despite that, the 49ers are still 3-point underdogs in Houston, the same line as they were in Chicago last week. This line has actually moved from 5.5 on the early line last week, but I still think we’re getting good line value with the 49ers, as I have this line calculated at even. The Texans are one of the worst teams in the league without quarterback Deshaun Watson, defensive end JJ Watt, and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who are all out for the season.

New quarterback Tom Savage is arguably the worst in the league and, making matters worse, he’s immobile and plays behind arguably the worst offensive line in football. They get #2 wide receiver Will Fuller back from injury this week, but he hasn’t been the same player without Watson. If the 49ers can defeat the Bears on the road, they should be able to do the same in Houston, or at least keep it within a field goal to at least get a push of this spread. The 49ers are a smart bet this week.

San Francisco 49ers 17 Houston Texans 16 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +3

Confidence: High

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-7) at Tennessee Titans (7-4)

Last week, the Texans were 7 point underdogs in Baltimore and I bet against them. The Texans managed a push, but didn’t get in the end zone on their final 11 drives, after scoring a touchdown on their first drive of the game, when the Ravens committed 3 dumb penalties for 39 yards to keep the drive moving. Tom Savage had yet another horrible game, only managing big plays when DeAndre Hopkins or Baltimore’s penalties bailed him out, and he will be the starter again this week because of the lack of a better option. In a season where many teams have questionable quarterback situations, Savage is arguably the worst starting quarterback who has seen extended action.

Despite that, the Texans are just 6.5 point underdogs here in Tennessee, a half point lower than they were last week in Baltimore. And considering about 9% of games are decided by exactly a touchdown, it’s a big half point. Tennessee is undoubtedly a better team than the Ravens, who have one of the worst offenses in the league. The Titans beat the Ravens earlier this year in a game they led by 10 until a garbage time touchdown cut the lead to a field goal with less than a minute left. I have this line calculated at -11.5, so we’re getting significant line value with the Titans at 6.5. Without Quarterback Deshaun Watson, left tackle Duane Brown, wide receiver Will Fuller, defensive end JJ Watt, and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, the Texans are arguably the least talented team in the league, while the Titans are a borderline top-10 team and one of the healthiest teams in the whole league.

The Texans are in a great spot as road underdogs in their 2nd of two road games off of a road loss. Teams are 119-77 ATS in that spot since 2008. That’s because teams typically do better in their second of two road games, as opposed to a single road game sandwiched between two home games, but lines don’t really adjust for that. Teams are 256-269 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.78 points per game, as opposed to 377-521 straight up in a road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 2.96 points per game, a difference of about 2 points. That being said, we’re still getting enough line value with the Titans that this is my Pick of the Week. This line is at 7 still in some places, but I would wait for 6.5, even if you have to pay a little extra juice.

Tennessee Titans 24 Houston Texans 13

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -6.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Arizona Cardinals at Houston Texans: 2017 Week 11 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (4-5) at Houston Texans (3-6)

Both of these teams have had their season derailed by injuries to their starting quarterback, as Carson Palmer and Deshaun Watson are out indefinitely with a broken arm and a torn ACL respectively. As a result, these two teams are starting Blaine Gabbert and Tom Savage respectively, two of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Quarterback isn’t the only place these two teams are banged up though. The Cardinals have lost left tackle DJ Humphries, running back David Johnson, left guard Mike Iupati, outside linebacker Markus Golden, and safety Tyvon Branch for the season with injuries, while the Texans are missing defensive end JJ Watt, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, defensive end Christian Covington, and wide receiver Will Fuller.

With all that these two teams are missing, they are two of the worst teams in the entire NFL. I have them more or less even in my roster rankings, suggesting that the hometown Texans should be favored by about a field goal. Given that, we are getting line value with them as just 1 point home favorites, but it’s not enough for me to bet on Houston confidently. For pick ‘em purposes, the Texans should be the pick, but I would not recommend betting on either of these teams.

Houston Texans 20 Arizona Cardinals 17

Pick against the spread: Houston -1

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 Week 10 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (3-5) at Los Angeles Rams (6-2)

The Rams are 6-2, but I am not quite sold on them as a top-10 team. Four of their six wins have come against the 49ers, Cardinals, Giants, and Colts, who are among the 6 or 7 worst teams in the league. They have also beaten the Jaguars and the Cowboys, but the Cowboys were without Sean Lee and the Jaguars allowed two special teams touchdowns in a 10-point loss. The Rams have won big in the past two weeks, but that was against an Arizona team that lost Carson Palmer midgame and a Giants team that quit when they got down big.

The Rams’ two losses came against the Redskins and the Seahawks, both at home. In fact, they are just 1-2 at home this year, as opposed to 5-0 away from Los Angeles (including a neutral site game in London). Their one home win came against the Colts, who were led by Scott Tolzien, arguably the worst quarterback in the NFL. The Rams don’t have quite the same trouble getting home fans as the Chargers, but Los Angeles has not proven to be much of a homefield advantage for them since they’ve moved, as they are 2-7-1 ATS in Los Angeles over the past two seasons.

This week they are at home for the Texans, favored by 12 points in what could easily be a trap game for the Texans, who head to Minnesota next week to face a Vikings team that is also 6-2. Favorites of 10+ points are just 57-78 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs. The Texans, meanwhile, should be completely focused with only a home game against the lowly Cardinals on deck. If I trusted the Texans at all, I’d make a bet on them here, but they are arguably a bottom-3 team without JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Deshaun Watson. I have this line at -10.5, so we aren’t getting much line value with the Texans, who could easily lose by two touchdowns if the Rams are focused.

Los Angeles Rams 20 Houston Texans 10

Pick against the spread: Houston +12

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (2-6) at Houston Texans (3-4)

These two teams have lost more to injury this season than perhaps any team in the league. The obvious big injury for the Colts was the loss of quarterback Andrew Luck, who has officially been shut down for the season due to complications from off-season shoulder surgery. Luck’s injury exposed what has long been one of the worst 53 man rosters in the NFL and the hits have kept coming from there, as the Colts have also lost safety Malik Hooker and left guard Jack Mewhort, two of their better starters, for the season, while several others have missed games, including talented outside linebacker John Simon and talented safety Clayton Geathers, who remain out for the Colts.

On top of that, center Ryan Kelly and cornerback Vontae Davis, who missed the start of the season with injury, have not looked anywhere near 100% since returning. This is arguably the worst team in the league right now, even though they have two wins. Those two wins have come at home against the winless 49ers and winless Browns by a combined 6 points and it’s arguable they would have lost both games had they not been in Indianapolis. Both of those wins also came before the injuries to Mewhort, Hooker, and Simon, three of their few talented starters.

That being said, the Texans’ roster right now also looks like one of the worst in the league. The Texans opened the season with Tom Savage under center, but he played so bad that he was benched after one half against the Jaguars for rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson took a couple games to get his feet under him, but then played a 5-game stretch that was as good as any quarterback in the NFL, finally giving the Texans the franchise quarterback they’d trying to find for years.

Unfortunately, right as that happened, they lost arguably their two best defensive players, defensive end JJ Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, in a week 5 loss to the Chiefs. Without them, they were still able to defeat the Browns with ease and then they lost a nailbiter in Seattle against the Seahawks when Deshaun Watson had the game of his life against one of the better defenses in the league. Just when it looked like Watson could carry this team even without a good defense, Watson tore his ACL in practice this week so they are now back to Tom Savage, a massive blow to this team.

When the news broke about Watson’s injury, this line shifted from 14 to 7. I was considering taking the Colts at +14 before the injury, but I like them a lot more than +7 against Savage as I don’t think this line shifted enough to compensate for how valuable Watson had been to this offense. Not only was he making big plays in the passing game and on the ground, but his mobility minimized the effect of what is a pretty terrible offensive line upfront for the Texans. In fact, Watson’s mobility was likely a big part of the reason why they felt comfortable trading left tackle Duane Brown to the Seahawks at the deadline this week, just days before Watson’s injury.

With Savage taking over, the Texans go from one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the NFL to one of the least mobile, which will maximize the effect of this terrible offensive line, even against a weak defense. Savage took 7 sacks in the first half against Jacksonville before being benched. The Colts are hardly the Jaguars, but Savage could still be under pressure all day as the Colts’ front 7 actually isn’t that bad, even without John Simon. Outside of center Nick Martin, the Texans have below average starters across the offensive line, including at left tackle where Chris Clark is arguably the league’s worst blindside protector.

Savage also has Will Fuller healthy, which he didn’t have in the opener, but he won’t be supported by nearly the same defense either, with not just JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus hurt, but also defensive end Christian Covington, who was having a mini-breakout season in Watt’s absence before going down for the season with a torn bicep last week. In 3 games without Watt and Mercilus, they’ve been torched twice by the Chiefs and Seahawks, with their only strong performance coming against the Kevin Hogan led Browns. And now you add the loss to Covington to the mix. We’re getting enough line value with the Colts for them to be my Pick of the Week at +7. They wouldn’t be my Pick of the Week in a normal week, but there are only 12 games this weekend and I don’t love a lot of the lines.

Houston Texans 20 Indianapolis Colts 16

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (3-3) at Seattle Seahawks (4-2)

When this line opened at 5.5 early in the week, I was strongly considering betting on the Seahawks. The Texans have exceeded expectations offensively thanks to breakout seasons from their last two first round picks, wide receiver Will Fuller and quarterback Deshaun Watson, and they get valuable left tackle Duane Brown back from his holdout this week, but I want to see how their defense fares without JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus against an offense other than the Browns.

On top of that, the Seahawks are a step up in class defensively from any defense the Texans have faced since Jacksonville and Cincinnati in weeks 1 and 2, when they managed just 2 total offensive touchdowns. Since then, they’ve scored 16 offensive touchdowns in 4 games, but against New England, Tennessee, Kansas City, and Cleveland, who are among the worst defenses in the league. They could easily have a lot of trouble in Seattle, where the Seahawks have been so good over the years (31-16 ATS at home in the Russell Wilson era).

Unfortunately, this line has moved from 5.5 to 7, as the sharps likely jumped on the Seahawks after the news broke about Houston owner Bob McNair’s “inmates” comment and the subsequent reaction of the Texan players. I ultimately don’t see that affecting the Texans on the field on Sunday, as they are in the middle of a race for a division title, so I’m not as excited to bet the Seahawks at -7 as I was at -5.5. If this line drops back down under a touchdown tomorrow morning, I may reconsider.

Update: This line has dropped down to 6.5, so I’ll make this a medium confidence pick.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Houston Texans 16

Pick against the spread: Seattle -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans: 2017 Week 6 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-5) at Houston Texans (2-3)

The Browns are 0-5 and tied for the 2nd worst turnover margin in the league at -7. Fortunately for them, turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For example, the Browns were -2 against the Jets last week and teams that post a -2 turnover margin, on average, have a turnover margin of -0.1 the following week. If you look at other numbers as well, there’s really no week-to-week correlation between turnover margins. That’s great news for a team that has actually moved the ball pretty well this season when they aren’t turning the ball over.

The Browns rank 25th in first down rate differential, which isn’t great, but it’s better than their record suggests and their -2.34% mark is not terrible. They have 8 more first downs than they’ve allowed (103 vs. 95) and they rank 15th in first down rate at 34.45%, above the league average. They haven’t won a game, but they’ve won the first down margin between in 3 of 5 games, including last week’s 17-14 home loss to the Jets, a game in which the Browns had 3 drives down inside the Jets’ 5-yard line that did not result in points (interception, fumble, failed 4th down conversion) and missed 2 field goals (39-yard and 52-yard). The Browns lost by 3 despite winning the first down battle 22-14.

Not only are turnover margins inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, but the Browns also made a smart, proactive decision to improve their turnover margin by benching quarterback DeShone Kizer, who has been responsible for 11 of the Browns’ 13 turnovers, despite playing just 81.1% of the team’s offensive snaps. In addition to the turnovers, Kizer was completing just 50.9% of his passes for an average of 5.35 YPA. The 2nd round rookie was a disaster in 5 starts and will be replaced by 2016 5th round pick Kevin Hogan, who has significantly outplayed him in limited action this season, completing 68.9% of his passes for 9.92 YPA, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Hogan might not be great in his first career start, but going with him instead of Kizer increases their likelihood of winning this game.

Their big mistake might have been not going to Hogan sooner, as the Browns’ schedule has been pretty easy so far (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, NY Jets) and gets harder going forward. They get lucky this week though, as they head to Houston to face a Texans team that just lost their two best defensive players, defensive end JJ Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, for the season with injuries. The Texans’ offense is improved with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson under center and 2nd year wide receiver Will Fuller playing well since his return from a broken collarbone, but they still have major problems on the offensive line and now have major problems on defense too.

They shouldn’t be favored by double digits against anyone. This line was -8.5 a week ago on the early line, but moved to 10 despite the losses of Watt and Mercilus because people are overreacting to the Browns’ loss to the Jets, a game the Browns likely would have won if they had played Hogan all game. The one concern with taking the Browns is that the Texans are going into a bye and teams are 65-24 ATS as 6+ point home favorites before a bye since 2002, but the Texans shouldn’t be favored by this many points and will have a very hard time covering as 10 point favorites without Watt and Mercilus. I have this line calculated at -5.5 in favor of the Texans, so we’re getting a ton of line value with the visitors. This is my Pick of the Week.

Houston Texans 23 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +10

Confidence: Pick of the Week