Today's Free Picks for
Posted on Sept 5
Houston under 8½ -115
This might be the best under we’ve seen in the past 30 years. The 2016 Texans won their division, which influences the number this year and provides us with this outstanding opportunity. The 2016 Texans were about as bad as a division winner can get. Consider that they ranked a lowly 29th in DVOA, (a relevant metric that measures defense adjusted value over average) safely sandwiched between two teams that fired their coaches, the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams. This was a bad team that won some games.
The Texans joined the privileged ranks of those teams that posted a winning record while being outscored over the season. Houston posted the fourth-worst point differential for a team with a winning record since 1989, and things don't often go well for teams in that bracket. The 10 winning teams with the worst point differentials declined by an average of three wins the following season.
Those numbers do not bode well for the Texans, nor does one element of the game that often regresses toward the mean from year to year. Houston was terrible on special teams last season, finishing dead last in DVOA while finishing well below league average on everything except punt returns. Normally, teams will make a change in their coaching staff or personnel, and that, combined with some randomness, will push a truly bad special-teams unit toward the middle of the pack. The problem, though, is that the Texans were also last in special-teams DVOA last season, at which point they fired Bob Ligashesky and hired Larry Izzo. They were 28th under Ligashesky in 2014, 29th in 2013 and last in 2012. It has been five seasons since Houston peeked out from the bottom five in the league in special teams. You would think that might inspire personnel changes but the Texans brought back kicker Nick Novak and punter Shane Lechler on one-year extensions and will return four of their six most frequent special-teams players from a year ago. None of this inspires any confidence that things will be different in 2017.
The Texans played in a putrid division last year but things are improving greatly in the AFC South. The Jaguars imported arguably the two best defensive players in free agency with Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye, the latter of whom was Houston's top cornerback in 2016. Indianapolis hired general manager Chris Ballard and spent the offseason finally making coherent moves for its defense, although Andrew Luck's shoulder is a concern. The Titans profited from robbing the Rams last year by adding two first-round picks to their roster at positions of notable weakness. Meanwhile, the Texans weren't able to do much in free agency this offseason, thanks to their spending spree from a year ago and the $9 million in dead money they're eating on Osweiler's contract. The one downside to winning its division is that Houston will be stuck playing the Patriots and Chiefs in 2017, while the rest of their division plays lesser teams from the AFC East and West. The Texans also play in Seattle, Cincinnati, and Baltimore among others while hosting games against Pittsburgh and Arizona. That’s very likely five losses right there. They could easily go 0-5 to open the year with games against Jacksonville, New England, Cinci, Tennessee and K.C. before they play Cleveland in Week 6.
The Texans did beat the Kansas City Chiefs by seven points last season and they had another seven-point victory over the Detroit Lions. Otherwise, Houston was eking out wins against the AFC South and the likes of the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals. Meanwhile, its average loss came by 13.3 points, including a 27-point loss to the Patriots with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback on a short week. The Texans were really 8-1 in meaningful one-score games, given that they lost a meaningless Week 17 game to a Matt Cassel-led Titans team -- and even that required a late Brock Osweiler rushing touchdown to make it close. Houston's largest win of the season was over the lowly Bears in the opener by nine points. Meanwhile, it had three losses of 18 points or more. We find it hard to believe Tom Savage is likely to be better than Brock Osweiler over any stretch of time or until Deshaun Watson inevitably takes over.
Houston is one of the worst teams in the NFL that went 8-2 in one score games last year. Pay more attention to its average loss of two TD’s and three losses of 18 points or more. Frankly, we’re not expecting them to win five games, let alone nine to beat us and if you are going to make just one over/under bet this season for wins, this should be it.
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Houston under 8½ -115 (Risking 3.45 units - To Win: 3.00)