In this episode, we looked back at the Patriots victory against the Texans.
The Patriots took care of business at home against the Texans and they came away with the 27-20 victory that wasn’t really as close as the score would indicate. There was never the feeling that the Texans could take over and win this game and the muffed punt at the end, while it made it a one-score game, didn’t really change the momentum.
It was a good win, with plenty of positives and also plenty of negatives for the coaches to clean up before they travel to Jacksonville next week. With the NFL showing a ton of sloppy play across the board in Week 1, we’ve become accustomed to most of the teams playing below par since most of the players barely see the field during preseason. So, with that in mind, the coaches will take the victory and move on.
Overall the Patriots looked pretty good and were the better team throughout the game. The combination of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski seems to have not missed a beat and perhaps those missing OTAs sessions weren’t a big a negative as we were told to believe. There is a reason to feel much better about the pass rush this season, although the Houston OL is a bit suspect again. And the OL’s performance can only be described as a ton better than when the two teams met last year.
There were issues with the run defense, turnovers and special teams coverages on the minus side. So, with the season opener in the books, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.
Tom Brady wasn’t at his very best, as he was quick to point out after the game on Sunday but he was pretty damned good. There was absolutely no rust factor involved with the offense under #12 and he was his normal cool, brutally efficient leader.
All summer we heard the same mantra we’ve heard for what now? Eight to ten years? They have no weapons…the offense will struggle…yada, yada. Brady eats that like M&Ms, (although he probably eschews chocolate). He threw a nice back shoulder throw to Gronkowski for the Patriots first touchdown where the big man then muscled his way into the end zone.
He also had touchdown passes to James White and Phillip Dorsett, who was the 69th player (Gronk approves this message) to catch a touchdown pass from Brady. And his best pass of the day was arguably the one in the fourth quarter when facing a third and long. Brady bought time, slid in the pocket and found his fourth option, FB James Develin for a key first down. He finished 26-39 for 277 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT.
Running Backs: B
The Patriots went with Rex Burkhead and James White mainly early in the game and then brought in Jeremy Hill later. Both Burkhead, who got the majority of the work in the running game and White were their normal solid performers on the field.
Hill came on and got just a few carries but appeared quick in the running game before going down with what appeared to be a nasty injury. That hit may require the Patriots to make a roster move if he’s out for an extended period, which it appears initially to be. **Update** Hill has torn his ACL and is done for the year**
James Develin provided his always solid game in the running game as a lead blocker but also chipped in with four catches for 22 yards. Develin had six catches all season in 2017 and nearly equaled that on Sunday. That’s nice stepping up. But overall, the running game went for 122 yards on 31 carries which isn’t bad at all.
Wide Receivers: C
The wide receivers entered the game pretty thin with just four on the roster, minus STer Matthew Slater. While their numbers weren’t earth shattering they performed okay for the first game of the season but in the future, they’ll have to step it up.
The bright spot was Phillip Dorsett who had just 12 catches all of last year. He had seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. On the final drive before the first half, Dorsett caught the last three passes Brady threw, including the four-yard touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson had four touches including three carries and one reception.
Chris Hogan’s day was a disappointment. He was targeted five times and had just one catch for 11 yards. Riley McCarron was targeted once and had no stats but he would figure prominently in special teams (more below). The third down conversion rate wasn’t good and it is the WRs who must step up and change that.
Tight Ends: A
Rob Gronkowski is the best, most complete tight end in the NFL and it isn’t even close. The Texans decided that they were going to take him away with an athletic linebacker and a safety. It didn’t work. Gronkowski was the most dominant player on the field on Sunday.
He caught seven passes for 123 yards and a score, despite being the guy they tried to shut down. His 22-yard touchdown was a classic Gronkowski double coverage, back shoulder throw to Brady where he muscled his way in the end zone. At the end of the half, he split two defenders on a deep seam route where he made a fantastic catch despite a defender clearly pulling on his arm.
But Gronk is a force multiplier, he is a great decoy as well. On James White’s touchdown he lined up in the slot on the right and cut left and took all of the defenders with him, White was left with a huge hole in the defense to work in. Dorsett’s touchdown was similar. The guy continues to be unstoppable.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line was thought to be a question mark by some even though they had four of five starters returning. They were facing one of the best front sevens in the NFL and one that has a plethora of pass rushers. And for much of the day, Tom Brady could stand flat-footed in the pocket and go thru his progressions.
Trent Brown did a tremendous job on Jadeveon Clowney all game long and the talented pass rusher was invisible for most of the game. He and Whitney Mercilus were relegated to a milk carton in the game. Marcus Cannon did a tremendous job on J.J. Watt who did get a couple of hits on Brady when LaAdrian Waddle came on the second half. The Texans did get a couple of sacks from the interior of the line late in the game.
The only picky thing we can find is that the run blocking was just okay but not great. The team averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, again okay but not where they want to be. However, they did rush for 122 yards on that front seven, so we’re not going to harp on that at all.
Defensive Line: B
It was a mixed bag for the defensive line on Sunday. They were outstanding at getting after the quarterback and (this time), containing him in the pocket. Trey Flowers had a tremendous game, he’s always an under-the-radar guy. Flowers logged 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and three QB hits. Deatrich Wise, in a limited role, due to the rotation, had 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and three QB hits. All in just 22 snaps
Unlike a year ago, the Patriots were for the majority of the afternoon, able to keep Deshaun Watson in the pocket and stop him from gaining the edge and making plays with his feet. The rotation of DEs was working and they kept fresh legs out there with Adrian Clayborn and newcomer Keionta Davis playing well too.
Lawrence Guy is the most underrated player on the Patriots. Guy had a great game and provided solid run support as well as pushed the pocket. He forced Watson’s throw that was picked off by Gilmore.
The run defense overall was not good, the Texans were running at Malcom Brown and Adam Butler and that will have to be tightened up. In the second half, however, it looked like the team was going to a smaller box and playing more two deep safeties, but we’ll have to rewatch the tape and see if some of the issues were by design.
Kyle Van Noy, rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Dont’a Hightower played the most snaps. Bentley was really good for the most part and moves all over the field pretty well for a big man. He was out of position, however, on the 31-yard run by Lamar Miller in the first half. Elandon Roberts came on in the second half and had one really bad series, where Alfred Blue and the Texans gashed them on the ground. Roberts has a penchant for filling the wrong gaps at times and that series was not good.
But in covering the backs and tight ends, the linebackers had a very good game. The running backs had just two catches and TE Ryan Griffin was shut out. It was a pretty good start to the season, while they have a lot of room for improvement, it was light years better than the start to 2017.
Stephon Gilmore continued the outstanding play that he’s demonstrated since the midway point of last year. He had a strong spring and summer and he was matched up with one of the best WRs in the game with DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins had his catches, he ended up with eight for 78 yards but he wasn’t a difference maker in the game. The Texans were trying everything in their power to get him the ball but Gilmore blanketed him all game.
His interception was a phenomenal play. Gilmore ran from the other side of the field when he saw Eric Rowe in single coverage and covered a tremendous amount of field with the ball in the air and went up, high pointed the ball and snagged the interception out of the hands of Rowe.
Rowe had a pretty solid game as well, while Ellington had just four catches for 37 yards. The safeties did a very good job of communication (the opposite of 2017) and the bunch formations that gave the team fits in 2017 didn’t phase them this time around.
Special Teams: C-
The normally solid Patriots special teams coverage units laid a clunker against the Texans who were one of the worst STs units in the league last year. Houston averaged 31.2 yards per kickoff return, not what I would consider anywhere near the Patriots par. But it was the first game of the season and the team did lose a couple of their core special teamers in Brandon Bolden and Jordan Richards while Jacob Hollister missed the game due to injury.
Riley McCarron muffed a punt which allowed Houston to score on a short field to cut the score to a touchdown late in the game, but it was also his first NFL game. He’ll hear it from the coaches this week.
On the plus side, Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on three PATs and both FG attempts. And Ryan Allen had six punts for a 46.8-yard average. Included in that was his last-minute punt that went 55 yards and was downed on the one-yard line.
Bill Belichick had the team ready to go this season. The Texans tried to replicate their game from last year where they bunched their formations and got the Patriots secondary confused but this time, it didn’t work. The defense was well prepared for it plus the movement of Watson in the pocket.
Dante Scarnecchia had the OL extremely well prepared to face the Texans pass rush and stout front seven. The offense knew they were thin at WR but they worked up a game plan that got everyone involved. Josh McDaniels was still able to find ways to attack the secondary and the Patriots were still balanced in the running and passing games.
Brian Flores and the defense earn high marks of the week. The Patriots defense looked much, much better this week than they did at this time last year. Overall, very high marks for the coaching staff, but an even tougher test awaits this week.
Brady, Offensive Line Shine In Win
The New England Patriots opened the 2018 regular season with a 27- 20 win over the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on a cool, cloudy Sunday. While the game was anything but perfect, the Patriots were in control of this one from start to finish and despite a late score, one never had the feeling that the Texans could win this one.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski silenced the hand-wringing crowd, for a week anyway, as the two showed no signs of rust and had a tremendous chemistry going despite missing the spring workouts.
Brady appeared sharp completing 26-39 passes for 277 yards with 3 touchdowns and one interception. That one was tipped at the line and intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu. Gronkowski was his normally uncoverable self, the Texans couldn’t cover him with two smaller safeties, they tried to double him with linebacker Zach Cunningham as well. But he looked in midseason form catching seven passes for 123 yards and a score.
Brady, of course, was never satisfied with his own performance and stated he, and the team can do much better.
“I don’t think we played anywhere near where our capabilities are,” he said. “All of us probably look at the game and realize we could have done things better.”
Texans QB Deshaun Watson was the one who looked rusty and it shouldn’t come as a surprise since he missed the last seven games of the 2017 and barely played in the preseason. While the national media proclaimed he was about to re-torch the Patriots like he did a year ago, he hardly resembled that player from a year ago.
Unlike 2017, the Patriots had Watson under pressure all day, and the pass rush and his own rust had him off-target and off of his timing all game long. Watson finished with pedestrian numbers 17-35 for 176 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Tremendous credit has to go to Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Despite having four of five starters return this season, much was made of the “uncertainty” of the OL protecting Brady heading into this season. Especially facing a great test against a tremendous front seven of Houston. Having pass-rushers J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus, the Texans sacked Brady five times a year ago and hit him constantly, but that threat never materialized today.
Newcomer Trent Brown relegated Clowney to MIA status all day, and Marcus Cannon handled Watt extremely well in the first half, and while Watt made some noise late against LaAdrian Waddle, he was pretty much a non-factor as well as Mercilus.
The Pats were cruising until late in the game when Houston punted and Riley McCarron muffed the catch, having the ball bounce off of his face mask giving the Texans the ball deep in Patriots territory where they scored to make it a one-score game. After forcing the Patriots to punt late, Ryan Allen ended any hopes for a miracle comeback by perfectly dropping a 54-yard punt inside the five-yard line where Jonathan Jones downed it at the one.
The coaches will want to clean up the turnovers, they had three in the game, the Brady tipped interception, the McCarron muff and a Gronkowski fumble after he caught a deep pass down the seam.
The team moves on to face the Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday in Jacksonville. Game time is slated for 4:25 p.m. We’ll have to watch the weather reports for the hurricane that is aiming for northern FL, SC, and GA this week as it could impact the game depending on when it hits and where.
Here are our Players Up and Down for the Game:
Tom Brady: No brainer, the GOAT silenced the critics by being his normally cool, efficient self. He spread the ball around to eight different receivers and was in control all game long.
Rob Gronkowski: The Texans had no answer for the big man who made a tremendous catch deep down the seam while in triple coverage to set up a patented Patriots score just before halftime. Afterward he joked that he didn’t know what Tom was thinking, throwing him the ball with all of those players all around him….midseason form.
Phillip Dorsett: Dorsett spent all of last season with the Patriots and managed only 12 catches. He got off to a much better start this year as he hauled in seven passes for 66 yards and a score including the final three passes on the Patriots scoring drive at the end of the first half. He is off to good start in 2018.
Patriots Pass Rush: The Achilles heel of the defense a year ago, the Patriots pass rush was much improved Sunday. They put pressure on Watson all game long and did a much better job of setting the edge. Deatrich Wise and Trey Flowers each had 1.5 sacks but more important, the pass rush was consistent all game long.
Honorable Mentions- James White, Rex Burkhead, James Develin, Stephon Gilmore
Patriots Run Defense: While some of it was scheme related, they played much of the game with two deep safeties and therefore had a smaller box, they were gashed inside particularly on Malcom Brown and Adam Butler’s side. We’ll have to take another look at the game All-22 film but this will be an area that the coaches will want to work on. Lamar Miller had 98 yards on the ground forthe Texans.
Riley McCarron: His muffed punt was inexcusable, especially at that time of the game which could have turned the game around. But to his credit, he faced the music after the game and took all of the blame himself.
Jeremy Hill: Hill took a nasty hit by James Develin after Gronkowski fumbled in the second half. Watching the play on replay was painful as it seemed that his injury was severe. We’ll have to watch the report, but it seems like he could be done for the year.
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Familiar Faces, Familiar Opponents Face Each Other Again
The New England Patriots open the 2018 regular season against the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon and the conditions are supposed to be nearly perfect. The blistering heat wave that rolled thru the East Coast is moving off and it is supposed to be replaced by much cooler, drier air which brings a fall feel to the game.
The Patriots and Texans have faced each other often in recent years and very familiar with one another. In 2017, the two teams shared joint practices together before playing a preseason game and then met again in Week 3 of the regular season. Now they’ll renew the competition as each team has sights set for the postseason.
Although the Texans have never won in Foxboro, they are a team that gets great respect from the Pats. If you’ve ever attended a training camp session and watch those coaching assistants wave those big tennis rackets around when Tom Brady throws in drills? That is the J.J. Watt effect, because the uber-talented, but lately oft-injured defensive lineman has a penchant for knocking down passes at the line.
So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:
The Pats quarterback is entering his 19th season in the NFL and despite being 41 years old, looks as good as ever, winning the MVP of the league at 40 and then throwing for 505 yards against a very good Eagles defense in the Super Bowl.
Brady lost trusted targets in Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks this offseason and then skipped the OTAs to spend more time with his family. Now with a wide receiver core that is thinner than what they’re used to working with, until Julian Edelman returns, all eyes will be on Brady to see if he can continue to keep the offense clicking.
Houston has a formidable pass rush and sacked Brady five times last year, with a new left tackle (Trent Brown) and a right tackle just getting off an injury (Marcus Cannon), the Texans will be looking to disrupt things and Brady will have to be sharp, move the ball around to multiple targets and get it out quickly. Brady takes a lot of the pressure off of his tackles by getting rid of the ball very quickly and this season begins with a big test to see if the rust is gone from a long offseason.
Dorsett was brought over from the Colts last year and was pretty much an afterthought in the offense for most of the year. With Amendola and Cooks gone, Edelman suspended for the first month, and Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews released, the onus of much of the wide receiver production is being pushed on his plate.
Dorsett began the summer hot and was looking like he was ready for the challenge, but as camp wore on, he faded a bit and wasn’t a big factor in the first two preseason games. That changed in the third game as he and Brady seemed to be working on their timing and chemistry against the Eagles.
Now the games are for real and a lot of eyes will be following Dorsett as the tries to be the go-to guy and a reliable chain mover for the Patriots offense along with Chris Hogan and the newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson.
The Patriots big middle linebacker is back and looks healthy after missing most of last season. While Hightower isn’t an All-Pro, he is for this Patriots defense and his absence in the Super Bowl had more to do with them losing than Malcolm Butler’s absence did.
Hightower will have to control the running game inside and help out when Lamar Miller or Alfred Blue try to stretch them to the edge or head out in the passing game. With the scrambling ability of Deshaun Watson, the Patriot defenders on the edge will have to contain the mobile QB and keep him in the pocket. If he tries to run up the middle, Hightower will be tasked with minimizing the damage.
Having the big, physical Hightower back in the middle of the field is a huge boost for a Patriots defense that was woeful against the run in 2017. Everything with a Bill Belichick defense begins in the middle. Having Hightower back where he belongs is a big first step.
The Patriots corner behind Stephon Gilmore has taken an undeserved bad rap from Patriots fans and will get a chance this season to erase a lot of those. With Malcolm Butler now in Tennessee, Rowe gets elevated to the top two slot. And despite the perception, he’s ready for the challenge.
The bigger, taller (6’1, 205) Rowe who is beginning his fourth season has earned the right to be the starter. He had a very good spring and summer and fended off all competition from veterans and rookies alike to earn his way into the starters role.
This week he faces Will Fuller of the Texans who will play opposite DeAndre Hopkins and whose responsibilities fall to Gilmore. But an interesting footnote on Fuller, who is recovering from a hamstring issue and may not be 100 percent. Fuller and Watson developed a great chemistry last season. With both Hopkins and Fuller in the lineup with Watson under center, the Texans averaged nearly 40 points per game last year. Rowe’s season opener will have him facing a tough matchup. It should be a fun one to watch.
The Patriots brought back Burkhead this season after an injury shortened one in 2017. But there is no doubt when he was healthy and on the field, he was an integral part of the Patriots offense. That should not change in 2018 and in fact, his role may actually increase in the first month of the season with Edelman out.
Burkhead missed the Texans game last year after having a big game the week before against the Saints in the passing game. Look for Josh McDaniels to use Burkhead and James White as movable chess pieces in the backfield. The two will serve as slot receivers at times as they’ll put them in motion and try to create matchup problems.
In our key matchups, we said Burkhead may be the “X-Factor” in the game on Sunday. The Texans will be looking to put a lock on Rob Gronkowski and with him and the WRs clearing out some space, it could mean a big day for Burkhead.
The Patriots signed the veteran edge player this spring and he was expected to show the veteran leadership role that befits someone of his standing. Clayborn has been the consummate pro since arriving, always being one of the first players on the field and helping the younger players
The Patriots pass rush and their play along the edge in 2017 was a big issue all season. Now, by adding Clayborn to Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise and getting Derek Rivers and Keionta Davis back from injuries that robbed their rookie seasons, the team is optimistic that they’ll be much improved.
But it all begins with Clayborn. He’ll be expected, and rightfully so, to lead the way on Sunday against a very good, young, mobile quarterback. It would do wonders for the confidence of a young group to get off to a good start this season.
This episode, is our preview of the home opener for the Patriots against the Texans. However, we started the show by looking at the 53 man roster. After that, we made several season predictions. At the end of the show, we previewed the game.
The New England Patriots will meet the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.
This week’s game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Their top announcing crew will cover the game with Jim Nance, who will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
The Patriots (13-3 in 2017) are looking to get 2018 off on a winning track. Tom Brady on the opening day of the season is 12-3, the best record for a QB during the Super Bowl era. The Patriots record in the past 10 years is 123-37, the best in the NFL
The Texans (4-12 in 2017) are healthy and looking to get back in the playoffs. They have a lot of their starters returning healthy after a disastrous 2017. Deshaun Watson was off to an electric start of his career before being placed on IR. They are looking to win in New England for the first time.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
The Patriots and Texans will be meeting for just the 11th time as Houston entered the league in the 2002 season. The Patriots hold a 9-1 advantage in these contests while holding a perfect 5-0 advantage at home, including a pair of playoff wins over the Texans in Gillette.
The Patriots needed a vintage 4th quarter Tom Brady drive to beat Houston 36-33 last year in Week 3. Deshaun Watson was outstanding under center for Houston, passing for 301 yards and a pair of scores and the defense sacked Tom Brady five times.
Despite that, Brady passed for 378 yards and five touchdowns in the huge comeback win. The Pats defense didn’t have a great day but produced two interceptions of Watson.
So here are our Keys to the Game, and who gets the Razor’s Edge in the matchups. First up is the New England offense…
Patriots RBs vs Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston
The Patriots running game once again made big changes during the offseason. Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden are gone. Jeremy Hill is in with James White. Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead have knee injuries and while they’ve been practicing again, it is probably doubtful both plays this week.
The Texans front seven is very good and despite the myriad of injuries they suffered last season, they were very good (13th) against the run. The Patriots could only muster 59 yards a year ago. Can Hill and White muster more than that? We say no this week.
Patriots WRs vs Texans Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots passing game is thin at WR with only four on the roster plus Matthew Slater. But here’s where the chess match gets interesting. The Texans have a ridiculous plethora of pass rushers, J.J. Watt, Whitney Merciless, Jadeveon Clowney as well as promising rookie Duke Ejiofor and sacked Brady five times last year. But Brady torched them across the middle of the field to the tune of 378 yards a 5 TDs.
Look for lots of two RB, and two TE sets to offset the lack of WRs. James White and Rob Gronkowski will be moved around a lot in motion, splitting out wide to get favorable matchups. Houston has two new safeties, Tyrann Mathieu (Honey Badger) and converted corner Kareem Jackson who are 5’9 and 5’10 respectively. Look for Brady to test them in coverage against the much bigger Gronkowski. Burkhead, if he’s available is the “X-Factor” for the Patriots passing game.
Next up the Houston offense
Texans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England
Lamar Miller remains the workhorse for the Texans running game. He lost weight in the offseason to get back some of the explosiveness that was missing a year ago. However, second-year RB D’Onta Foreman is on PUP for the Achilles he suffered last year. Watson burned the Patriots last year with his ability to scramble. After barely playing in the preseason, will he be given the green light to do it again?
The Patriots made some changes up front from last year, bringing in Danny Shelton who should anchor down the middle, in a rotation with Lawrence Guy, and Malcom Brown. Dont’a Hightower returns from his season-ending injury and should really help in the run defense which was porous last year. Houston has totally revamped their offensive line, which is still a question mark at this point.
Texans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Houston
Watson had the Texans offense exploding once he took over at QB last season, averaging nearly 40 points per game. He has one of the best WRs in the game in DeAndre Hopkins who caught 96 passes a year ago, most of the season with awful QB play. Will Fuller has been hurt but is supposed to play this week and he gives Watson a pair of extremely talented wide receivers. Tight End Ryan Griffin could be the “X-Factor” this week.
Last year the Patriots did a terrible job of containing Watson in the pocket, and if he gets out to the edge where he can run or throw, the defense will get gashed again. But unlike last year, when they went to a smaller, safety-centric look, I believe, they’ll go bigger here and look to anchor the edges and push the pocket from inside. The edge rushers, led by newcomer Adrian Clayborn, Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, and Keionta Davis will have their hands full. Can they bring pressure without losing containment and force Watson to get rid of the ball early? We’ll see.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen are back and very solid. Allen, in particular, had an outstanding summer after being pushed in training camp by some competition. The Patriots coverage units are always solid although they’ll be missing two of their stalwarts from the past few years in Jordan Richards and Brandon Bolden. But they get back Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater and have added one of the most dynamic kick returners in the league in Cordarrelle Patterson. Who return punts at this juncture remains a mystery.
The Texans special teams were just awful a year ago, especially their kickoff coverage. But they brought in former Patriots ST coach Brad Seely to right the ship. Long-time punter Shane Lechler was released, beaten out by rookie Trevor Daniel. Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has a very strong but inaccurate at times leg.
Next up, who wins and why…
The first game of the season is always the most difficult to predict. Because the element of the unknown is still out there. The starters for the offenses and a bit on defense haven’t played an entire game since last season and there are always new moving parts on both teams.
The key for the Texans is to get Watt untracked and early. If he’s his normal explosive self, the Texans’ Romeo Crennel will move him around and disrupt everything. A healthy Watt just makes Clowney, who is becoming an elite edge rusher and Mercilus, that much better rushing the QB. The Texans inside backers Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham, who is a sideline to sideline player will play key roles for them this week, trying to take away Gronkowski’s domain inside.
The Patriots will try to move their backs and tight ends around to create mismatches for Tom Brady to exploit. James White will probably be the most targeted member of the offense on Sunday. How well the offensive line holds up is always a key for the Patriots and especially against this excellent Houston front seven.
Defensively for New England, they try to match up against the Texans top two WRs but how well they do against the backs and tight ends will have a lot to say how this game goes. Containment of Watson in the pocket is key for Brian Flores group.
The Patriots are at home, which is always a big advantage for Brady and the offense. This one won’t be as high scoring as last year’s game, but Brady, White, and Gronkowski do enough to come away with a win. Patriots 27-21
The 2018 NFL season is finally upon us. And not a moment too soon. To say the offseason was overly long and contentious would be an understatement. But for a few hours on Sunday, we get to forget all of that and revel in the fact that the football season, with the games that count, is back amongst us.
The Patriots 2018 season begins with a very familiar foe coming to Foxboro. While the Houston Texans play in the AFC South, they’ve been a familiar foe for the Patriots who it seems, play the Texans every season, including a couple of playoff games in Foxboro.
Last year, the teams had a barn-burner with Tom Brady engineering a late drive with a perfect throw to Brandon Cooks for a game-winning touchdown with just seconds left. The 36-33 win by NE overshadowed the excellent game by Deshaun Watson who looked phenomenal for Houston in the 36-33 loss. Watson only played in seven games before tearing an ACL, but is now healthy and will start on Sunday.
So, here are our first impressions of the Texans of 2018…
Front Seven One of the Best in the NFL: The strength of the Texans is their defense and when they’re healthy, (they are right now), they are one of the best front sevens in the entire league. Led by J.J. Watt, this unit can really get after the passer. Watt is healthy after a two-year slew of injuries forced him onto the shelf. Watt, Whitney Merciless, Jadeveon Clowney and newcomer Duke Ejiofor from Duke gives them a ridiculous embarrassment of riches in the front seven.
Benardrick McKinney is the Mike linebacker and Zach Cunningham is the sideline to sideline linebacker on a front seven that has no weaknesses. Romeo Crennel will move these pieces around to where they feel they have the most advantageous matchups.
In the game, last season, the Texans, sacked Brady five times for 41 yards. Bill Belichick minced no words on how good the front seven is for Houston on Monday.
“They have a group of outstanding players. I mean, they’re among the very best in the league,” said Belichick. “So, very challenging and they have good depth, so they rotate some players through there that are maybe not quite as good as some of the other ones, but they’re still really good players.”
“They’re front four or front seven – however you want to look at it because some of those players are a little bit interchangeable – are very good, and one of the things that the Texans do a good job of is they don’t always line up in the same place. So, sometimes finding them or identifying where they are is a little bit of a problem – not that you can’t find a guy, but depending on what you have called and where he’s located, then that might change what your anticipated matchup on the play is and then what it really is could be two different things, and they do a good job of creating problems on that.”
Watson Ready to Turn It Back On: One of the better stories of the early part of the 2017 season was the play of rookie QB Deshaun Watson. He was positively electric in the early going before tearing an ACL in Week 7 that ended his and the Texans season.
Houston’s QB play was terrible after that and the injuries along the defense decimated what many thought would be a playoff team. But Watson is healthy now and despite a very limited preseason, he’s deemed ready to go for 2018.
Last season in Foxboro in Week 3, Watson threw for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed eight times for 41 more yards. He had one play on a second and 22 where he looked like he was about to sacked twice, by Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy, but spun out and left each holding air before delivering a strike downfield for 31 yards.
Whenever they face a mobile QB, the Patriots preach containment, which means the edge players must set the edge and not allow the QB to get outside of their rush lanes. If Watson does it again, like he did a year ago, he’ll put up big numbers again and has his favorite target, De’Andre Hopkins who caught 96 passes for 1378 yards and 13 touchdowns while dealing with awful quarterback play after Watson went down.
The Patriots defense will have their hands full on Sunday.
Big Turnover in Texans Roster: Things are constantly changing in the NFL landscape and the Texans roster is no stranger to that. Not only does Houston have the 7th youngest roster in the NFL at 25.6 years of age as the average, they’ve had a massive turnover in personnel.
Of the 53 players on the roster for the final regular season game of 2017, 31 of those players are gone. Of course, Houston had a rash of injuries last year with 24 players placed on IR. That, among other things, is why the team finished 4-12 and out of the playoffs. But this year’s team is expected to be much improved.
Still, it is different to see a Houston roster without so many mainstays including inside linebacker Brian Cushing, punter Shane Lechler, guard David Quessenberry and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and others gone.
Safety Will Be an Area to Watch on Sunday:
Houston has some uncertainty with the defense and it centers around the safety play. Kareem Jackson is making the transition from corner to safety after the 8-year veteran has played in 116 games as a cornerback. The Texans safeties struggled mightily and it is hoped that Jackson will be a stabilizing force there.
The team signed the “Honey Badger” Tyrann Mathieu as a free agent this year after he’s been bitten by the injury bug the past few seasons. When he was healthy, Mathieu was one of the more dynamic players in the league.
The team drafted rookie Justin Reid in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft this spring and it is expected that he’ll be a starter and soon but for now, he’ll back up the other two. Being the first game of the season, there may be some communication issues back there once the game planning takes place. Especially with two new faces there.
Foreman Begins Season on PUP: The Texans talented second-year running back D’Onta Foreman will begin the season on PUP after it appeared that he may be ready to start the season after tearing his Achilles tendon last year.
The big 6’1, 235 bruising running back from Texas played a big part in the Texans offense a year ago in Foxboro. Although he rushed for just 25 yards on eight carries, he had two huge receptions out of the backfield for 65 yards, one for 34 and one for 31.
“Honestly, it was a little tough, but it wasn’t that tough,” Foreman said about being placed on PUP. “We’re looking out for my best interests and the team’s best interests. I don’t want to be put out there (when) I’m not 100 percent and not at my best. That would be hindering the team (and) hindering myself. It was the best decision to make.”
With Foreman on the shelf until Week 7 against the Jaguars, look for Alfred Blue to get the majority of the snaps behind starter Lamar Miller.
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NFL Week 17 Early Advanced ‘Look-Ahead’ Betting Lines: Pats favored by 16 vs Jets
The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has published their latest NFL Advanced Betting Lines. These early odds were posted a day after the Week 15 games finished. Keep in mind these odds were listed prior to any of this week’s injury reports, as well as any of the Week 16 games. Also known as Look-Ahead lines, they give the adventurous sports fan an opportunity to wager on games up to twelve days away from being played. Early lines offer a short opportunity to get a jump on odds that could become less favorable after Sunday’s games.
Handicapping games in the final week of the regular season can be a tricky proposition. Motivation could be difficult for a team that has played for the goal of making the playoffs for months, and suddenly finds themselves eliminated. A bad team might play loose and try things they normally wouldn’t, catching an opponent off guard. Good teams locked into a specific playoff slot may opt to rest players who would have otherwise started. The line in the Eagles-Cowboys game reflects that concept.
In Week 16 ten road teams are favored to win. That number falls back to a more typical number in Week 17, with five home dogs. The Saints are the biggest road favorite, minus 8½ points at Tampa Bay. The largest spread of the week is in Foxboro, where the Patriots are favored by 16 versus the Jets. That game is one of four double-digit spreads. The narrowest odds are with Houston as a one-point underdog at Indianapolis.
The most important games of Week 17 loom to be Carolina at Atlanta (-3½) in the NFC, and Jacksonville (-3½) at Tennessee in the AFC.
All games will be played on Sunday, December 31. There are no night games.
NFL Week 12 Early Odds – Early Games on CBS
New York Jets at New England Patriots (-16)
Jacksonville Jaguars (-3½) at Tennessee Titans
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-15)
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-11)
Buffalo Bills (-2½) at Miami Dolphins
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (-1)
NFL Week 12 Early Odds – Early Games on Fox
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-3½)
New Orleans Saints (-8½) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-12)
Dallas Cowboys (-3) at Philadelphia Eagles
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (-9)
Washington Redskins (-3) at New York Giants
NFL Week 12 Early Odds – Late Games
Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers (-7), CBS
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-7), Fox
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (-2½), CBS
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-7), Fox
NFL Week 16 Odds, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread
Week 16 is unique, with neither Thursday nor Sunday night football – but with two games on Monday. Five teams have clinched a playoff spot and 14 others are still in contention for the post-season. There are plenty of intriguing games worth watching this weekend and next before the playoffs commence. The theory of home field advantage will be put to a test during these three days. Road teams are favored in ten of the sixteen games this week.
There is another oddity about this week’s schedule. Of the four games between teams with winning records, none are on in primetime – and three are broadcast in the early time slot. Fox has always had an affinity for NFC East teams due to their large market sizes. But if the network is not going to make the best game of the week (Falcons at Saints) their showcase game, then give it up to be flexed to Saturday night. Net result is that the two best games (NO-Atl and Patriots-Bills) are on at the same time. Those two back-to-back would have made for superior programming.
To see what games are being broadcast in your area, please check JP Kirby’s 506 Sports.
3-11 Indianapolis Colts at 8-6 Baltimore Ravens
4:30 pm ET Saturday 12/23 on NFLN; Greg Gumbel, Trent Green
Ravens favored by 13½; over/under 41 points; money line -1000, +675
Baltimore has averaged 31 points over their last five games, in large part to an NFL-best plus-17 turnover differential. The Raven defense ranks 4th with 18.3 points per game and has a league best 33 takeaways. I don’t see how the Indy offense (16.1 ppg, 31st) can keep this game close.
Pick: Ravens 31, Colts 13
Ravens -13½, over 41
11-3 Minnesota Vikings at 7-7 Green Bay Packers
8:30 pm ET Saturday 12/23 on NBC; Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth
Vikings favored by 9; over/under 41 points; money line -430, +340
The Vikings are playing for at minimum a first round bye, while Green Bay is eliminated. Minnesota’s defense will dominate a team that may be giving second stringers playing time with an eye on 2018.
Pick: Vikings 27, Packers 13
Vikings -9, under 41
11-3 Pittsburgh Steelers at 4-10 Houston Texans
4:30 pm ET, Monday 12/25 on NBC/NFLN; Mike Tirico, Kurt Warner
Steelers favored by 9½; over/under 45 points; money line -450, +350
I’m interested to see if Pittsburgh comes out with their hair on fire after last week’s last second loss. Or will the Steelers play down to their opponent’s level, as they often do. Pittsburgh is notorious for not playing well on the road either, and no Antonio Brown does not help matters. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Pittsburgh comes out flat, but Houston has lost too many key players over the course of their season.
Pick: Steelers 24, Texans 20
Texans +9½, under 45
6-8 Oakland Raiders at 12-2 Philadelphia Eagles
8:30 pm ET Monday 12/25 on ESPN; Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden
Eagles favored by 9; over/under 47½ points; money line -400, +330
Oakland is all but mathematically eliminated, and traveling cross country for a meaningless game. Philly wants to clinch the number one seed in the NFC and Nick Foles (4 TDs last week) showed the 31.3 ppg offense is still in capable hands. The Eagle defense should be able to handle Oakland and control this game.
Pick: Eagles 34, Raiders 17
Eagles -9, over 47½
Early CBS Games
8-6 Buffalo Bills at 11-3 New England Patriots
Jim Nantz, Tony Romo
Patriots favored by 12; over/under 47½ points; money line -750, +525
This should be a great game, as both teams have plenty to play for. The Patriots need two wins to insure home field throughout the playoffs. Buffalo needs a victory (and help) to make the playoffs. To add to the drama this is a revenge game for the Bills after the hit three weeks ago that resulted in Rob Gronkowski’s suspension. Sean McDermott came up with a great defensive game plan for Buffalo in the last meeting; it will be interesting to see what he has in store Sunday.
Pick: Patriots 27, Bills 20
Bills +12, under 47½
7-7 Los Angeles Chargers at 5-9 New York Jets
Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Chargers favored by 7; over/under 42½ points; money line -300, +250
After a surprisingly good start, the Jets are 2-7 in their last nine games. As the season has progressed their lack of quality depth has become apparent. The Chargers are in a must-win spot here; the Jets can go back to their original plan of tanking the 2017 season.
Pick: Chargers 27, Jets 17
Chargers -7, over 42½
6-8 Miami Dolphins at 8-6 Kansas City Chiefs
Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Chiefs favored by 10½; over/under 43½ points; money line -550, +425
Dolphins on the road outdoors in cold weather equals a Miami loss. Kansas City has finally righted their mid-season swoon with home victories over the Raiders and Chargers. Make it three in a row for the Chiefs.
Pick: Chiefs 27, Dolphins 14
Chiefs -10½, under 43½
5-9 Denver Broncos at 6-8 Washington Redskins
Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
Redskins favored by 3½; over/under 40½ points; money line -180, +160
Washington is again in a difficult position due to injuries on their offensive line. Denver has finally got it together the last couple of weeks, just in time to win enough games to miss out on a top-5 draft pick.
Pick: Broncos 20, Redskins 17
Broncos +3½, under 40½
0-14 Cleveland Browns at 4-10 Chicago Bears
Tom McCarthy, Steve Beuerlein
Bears favored by 6½; over/under 38 points; money line -280, +240
Chicago has played well at home this year, beating the Steelers and Panthers. Their home losses have all been close (an average of 5 points), and mostly to good teams (Falcons, Vikings, Packers). Cleveland’s 0-16 parade plans remain intact.
Pick: Bears 24, Browns 13
Bears -6½, under 38
Early Games on Fox
9-5 Atlanta Falcons at 10-4 New Orleans Saints
Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis
Saints favored by 5½; over/under 52½ points; money line -240, +200
Set your DVR so you can record and watch this game after the Patriots-Bills ends. Two weeks ago the Falcons beat the Saints 20-17 in Atlanta. It is really difficult to sweep a good division rival. The Falcons should be able to keep it close, especially now that RB Tevin Coleman (concussion) has been cleared to play.
Pick: Saints 27, Falcons 24
Falcons +5½, under 51½
10-4 Los Angeles Rams at 8-6 Tennessee Titans
Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston
Rams favored by 6½; over/under 47½ points; money line -290, +240
On one hand you have a west coast team having to travel 2000 miles and play a game three hours earlier than usual. On the other hand the Rams are a far superior team than the Titans. LA is back in sync now that Robert Woods is back on the playing field.
Pick: Rams 24, Titans 20
Titans +6½, under 47½
8-6 Detroit Lions at 5-9 Cincinnati Bengals
Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman
Lions favored by 4; over/under 44 points; money line -210, +180
This will be the final home game for Cincy head coach Marvin Lewis. Maybe he and Jeff Fisher can form a speaking tour and teach people how to retain a job much longer than they deserve.
Pick: Lions 24, Bengals 17
Lions -4, under 44
4-10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 10-4 Carolina Panthers
Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber
Panthers favored by 10; over/under 46½ points; money line -475, +375
Can somebody please explain to me why Carolina LB Thomas Davis was originally suspended for two games, rather than one? I think Roger Goodell uses one of those magic eight-balls from the sixties when deciding his punishments.
Pick: Panthers 34, Bucs 17
Panthers -10, over 46½
10-4 Jacksonville Jaguars at 4-10 San Francisco 49ers
Andrew Catalon, James Lofton (CBS)
Jaguars favored by 4; over/under 42 points; money line -210, +175
When Jimmy Garoppolo was traded, Pats fans wished him well. Now Patriot Nation is full of hand wringing seller’s remorse. The Niners have won three in a row since inserting Jimmy G as their starting quarterback, after a 1-10 start. Jacksonville could be in for a battle on the road here, especially if the Jags have to count on Blake Bortles at critical junctures.
Jaguars 23, Forty Niners 20
Niners +4, over 42
8-6 Seattle Seahawks at 8-6 Dallas Cowboys
Joe Buck, Troy Aikman (Fox)
Cowboys favored by 5; over/under 47½ points; money line -240, +200
Dallas has won three straight and have RB Ezekiel Elliott for this game. His presence completely changes the Cowboy offense. Seattle’s defense is just a shell of its former self to injuries. Is it time to replace Pete Carroll?
Pick: Cowboys 27, Seahawks 17
Cowboys +5, under 47½
2-12 New York Giants at 6-8 Arizona Cardinals
Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth (Fox)
Cardinals favored by 3½; over/under 40 points; money line -185, +165
Ho hum, a battle of two under achieving teams. Giants are the bigger mess right now and on the road.
Pick: Cardinals 24, Giants 13
Cardinals +3½, under 40
More than half of the remaining NFL Week 12 games have odds of seven or more points. On paper there are few competitive games, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Last week the Chiefs were double-digit favorites but lost to a one-win Giants club in disarray. Washington was an injury riddled 7½ point road dog up against a hot team on a seven game winning streak. The 4-5 Skins were up by 15 with less than two minutes to play and nearly upset the Saints before losing in overtime in one of the season’s most exciting games. On the other hand there are the Patriots, who have not lost since October 1st – and have covered the spread four weeks in a row.
Should the Patriots-Dolphins game turn into a blowout, there may be some competitive games in the early time slot. Buffalo is at KC in a battle between two fading teams. Tampa Bay at Atlanta could be interesting should the Falcons have a letdown after winning at Seattle. In the late time slot the Saints at Rams should be a great game. The night games are nothing special. Green Bay at Pittsburgh would have been a good game if Aaron Rodgers was the QB rather than Brett Hundley. Monday night it is Houston at Baltimore. The only reason to watch that is to witness a potential John Harbaugh meltdown and another Baltimore loss.
Unfortunately New England fans are once again saddled with Ian Eagle and the incompetent Dan Fouts as the broadcast crew for Sunday’s game. It boggles my mind that somebody at CBS considers this pair to be their second best set of announcers. How can anyone possibly consider those two to be better than Greg Gumbel and Trent Green, or Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon?
For a full list of announcers and to see what games are being broadcast in your are, please check JP Kirby’s 506 Sports.
Early Games on CBS
4-6 Miami Dolphins at 8-2 New England Patriots
Patriots favored by 16½; over/under 47½ points; money line -1900, +1000
The Patriots have often struggled against quarterbacks that they have little film to review for tendencies and weaknesses. Does that mean that Matt Moore will lead the Dolphins to an upset? Of course not. The offense is clicking despite several injuries, and the defense has made a 180 turn from the first month of the season.
Pick: Patriots 38, Dolphins 17
New England +16½, over 47½
0-10 Cleveland Browns at 4-6 Cincinnati Bengals
Bengals favored by 8; over/under 38 points; money line -410, +340
DeShone Kizer has thrown 14 interceptions, most in the NFL. Cleveland’s defense has been decent, but having to overcome all those turnovers is too much to ask for.
Pick: Bengals 24, Browns 13
Cincinnati -8, under 38
5-5 Buffalo Bills at 6-4 Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs favored by 10; over/under 46½ points; money line -500, +400
Buffalo HC Sean McDermott may be in over his head. With a 5-4 record and the Bills holding onto a wild card spot, he inexplicably benched QB Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is not an elite quarterback by any means, but the replacement was a 5th round rookie going on the road to make his first NFL start. Nathan Peterman proceeded to throw an interception on four of the first five drives, and was mercifully yanked after his fifth pick. McDermott’s reasoning was that he wanted to see what Peterman had and how he could do. Isn’t that what a blowout game in the fourth quarter is for? Or preseason? Or games in December after you have been eliminated from the playoffs, as opposed to a midseason game when you have a winning record?
Pick: Chiefs 31, Bills 20
Kansas City -10, over 46½
Early Games on Fox
3-7 Chicago Bears at 9-1 Philadelphia Eagles
Eagles favored by 14; over/under 44½ points; money line -1100, +700
Philly has won eight in a row and is coming off a huge win over division rival Dallas. The Eagles will be on the road for the next three games, playing the Rams, Seahawks and Giants. The Bears have already taken advantage of superior opponents in trap games twice, defeating the Steelers and Panthers. While an upset would be shocking, A close game would not be a surprise.
Pick: Eagles 24, Bears 20
Chicago +14, under 44½
4-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 6-4 Atlanta Falcons
Falcons favored by 9½; over/under 48½ points; money line -475, +375
In their victory last week at Miami the Bucs allowed three pass plays of over 40 yards. That kind of pass defense is going to be in a world of hurt against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Atlanta offense.
Pick: Falcons 30, Bucs 21
Tampa Bay +9½, over 48½
7-3 Carolina Panthers at 4-6 New York Jets
Panthers favored by 5½; over/under 40 points; money line -250, +210
Will Carolina be well rested or rusty coming off the bye? If the Panthers are looking ahead to next week’s game at New Orleans, the fundamentally sound Jet defense could cause enough problems to pull off an upset.
Pick: Panthers 20, Jets 17
New York Jets +5½, under 40
6-4 Tennessee Titans at 3-7 Indianapolis Colts
Titans favored by 3; over/under 45½ points; money line -165, +145
The Titans bounce back from last Thursday’s loss to Pittsburgh by feasting on an inferior opponent.
Pick: Titans 24, Colts 17
Tennessee -3, under 45½
Late Afternoon Games
6-4 Seattle Seahawks at 1-9 San Francisco 49ers
4:05 ET on Fox
Seahawks favored by 6½; over/under 45½ points; money line -300, +250
The 49ers may be able to keep it close thanks to all the injuries on Seattle’s defense. The Niners just don’t have enough talent to beat the Seahawks though.
Pick: Seahawks 27, Niners 20
Seattle -6½, over 45½
8-2 New Orleans Saints at 7-3 Los Angeles Rams
4:25 ET on CBS
Rams favored by 2½; over/under 53½ points; money line -145, +125
By far the best game of the week. The Rams have beaten only one good team all season (Jacksonville), and were a bit disappointing in last week’s loss at Minnesota. I’m expecting them to bounce back at home against New Orleans. The Saints defense has been opportunistic (ten interceptions, 13 takeaways) but could be overpowered here. New Orleans gave up 31 points at home to the injury riddled Redskins last week, and haven’t faced an offense this good since their week two loss to the Patriots.
Pick: Rams 31, Saints 27
LA Rams -2½, over 53½
7-3 Jacksonville Jaguars at 4-6 Arizona Cardinals
4:25 ET on CBS
Jaguars favored by 5½; over/under 38 points; money line -240, +200
The Jaguar defense is allowing just 14.1 points per game, by far the lowest in the NFL. Jacksonville should be able to feast on Blaine Gabbert and an anemic Arizona offense that has scored more than 21 points just twice all year.
Pick: Jaguars 20, Cardinals 13
Jacksonville -5½, under 38
3-7 Denver Broncos at 4-6 Oakland Raiders
4:25 ET on CBS
Raiders favored by 5; over/under 43 points; money line -240, +200
Remember when the experts declared the AFC West to be the best division in the NFL before the 2017 season began? Not much of that talk now, thanks to these two disappointing teams that failed to live up to the hype. Denver has lost six in a row, their worst losing streak since 1990. They could actually benefit from Tim Tebow at this point.
Pick: Raiders 24, Broncos 21
Denver +5, over 43
Prime Time Games
5-5 Green Bay Packers at 8-2 Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday night at 8:30 pm ET on NBC
Steelers favored by 14; over/under 43½ points; money line -1000, +600
Last week Pittsburgh was able to stop Tennessee’s running game, force the Titans into predictable pass plays, and take advantage of poor down-and distance situations. That resulted in four Marcus Mariotta interceptions and a 40-17 victory. The same formula worked for Baltimore last week in their 23-0 rout over the Packers as Green Bay turned the ball over five times. No reason to believe this game won’t be more of the same.
Pick: Steelers 31, Packers 10
Pittsburgh -14, under 43½
4-6 Houston Texans at 5-5 Baltimore Ravens
Monday night at 8:30 pm ET on espn
Ravens favored by 7; over/under 38 points; money line -320, +260
Tom Savage has ten turnovers (3 picks, 7 fumbles) in just 125 pass attempts. He has been sacked 13 times and is averaging a league-worst 4.54 yards per dropback. This all plays right into the strength of Baltimore’s defense, to force turnovers (an NFL-best 23).
Pick: Ravens 24, Texans 13
Ravens -7, under 37