Fast forward three weeks and I think the race is already over. In the meantime, let's take a closer look at this matchup and see why the Texans are about to thrash their division rivals.
The offseason line was Houston -7.5. The look-ahead line last week was -10.5. After another impressive win over the Broncos, it re-opened at -13 this week.
It was initially bet down to -11, but money is coming back on the Texans. And with good reason. I have the Texans favored by 15 points in my system, which is a rarity in the numbers that I use. I would set this line at -13.5 at the minimum, but more likely -14 (odds from SBRforum).
If you have access to this service, please go back and watch the Lions vs Titans game. The entertainment value alone will be worth your time. If you can't watch it, I'm certain it will be replayed on the NFL network at some point.
The main takeaway from that game is two-fold. One, the Titans had a handful of freak touchdowns. Two of them came on special teams (hello Music City Miracle Part II). Another few came on long touchdown passes off broken coverages (and one unbelievable catch).
Second, many of the same problems that existed on Tennessee before the game were still there on display on Sunday. They went 0-2 in the red zone, couldn't run the ball, and couldn't stop Detroit's offense with any sort of consistency whatsoever.
If you think they are primed for repeat performance against the Texans, you're either a Titans fan or living in some parallel universe I'm unaware of.
Are the Texans Too Much for Vegas?
I've made well over 250 picks against the spread over the last couple of seasons, and I've very rarely taken a team favored by double digits. This league is too unpredictable to take that chance.
Beginning last year, we've also seen that no lead is safe. Even the Texans had the game against the Broncos well in hand, but a late turnover sparked a two-touchdown comeback from Peyton and company.
Yet, I really don't think Vegas can get a handle on this Texans team. I certainly haven't been right about every team this year, but I've been right on the money with Houston. I might sprain my shoulder patting myself on the back, but it's taken three weeks for the rest of the league to catch up.
Last year, when healthy, the Texans were steamrolling teams and winning ATS at a fantastic rate. So far this season, there's very little reason to believe that's about to change anytime soon. People saw how the Dolphins hung with them for a while in Week 1, but they eventually broke though and blew them out.
Sharps expected a tough game in Jacksonville, and the Texans smacked them around too. Finally, people anticipated a challenging road game in a tough road spot at Mile High. It really was no contest. That's what elite teams do; they blow out the teams they are supposed to and come out on top in the tougher matchups.
The bottom line is the books can't set a line high enough without heavy money coming in on the underdog. Some sharps fade a double-digit favorite blindly on principle. Personally, I'm not scared by the -12 one bit.
X's and O's
If you rely heavily on the fundamentals like I do, you'll see very little reason to support the Titans here. The Texans have massive mismatches on both sides of the ball.
To begin with, the Titans are not going to keep Houston out of the end zone. Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty couldn't stop Calvin Johnson, and they won't be able to stop Andre Johnson either. With so much attention being paid to him and Arian Foster/Ben Tate, guys like Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter will be wide open on numerous occasions.
In fact, you could put any name on the back of the second receiver jersey and get decent production. You saw that last week against the Broncos when Kevin Walter was often waiting for the ball with 5-10 yards of open space around him.
The Titans couldn't stop Mikel LeShoure either. If he can rack up over 100 yards on the ground, imagine what the Texans' backfield can do? Houston is going to once again have their choice in the air or on the ground. Even good defenses have a hard time figuring out what the Texans are doing off the snap, so the Titans are certainly in for a long day on that side of the ball.
This unit is giving up almost 40 points per game and I don't think they are about to turn it all around against the best team in football. If they were going to show a spark, it would have come in their home-opener.
On the flip side, it could be even uglier. If Chris Johnson can't accumulate over 30 yards against the run-susceptible Lions, he has very little chance of breaking out against this defense. Through three weeks, he's averaging 15 yards per game.
This puts all the onus on Jake Locker. I'm sorry, but I don't give a crap what he did in Week 3, because he's not going to find receivers ridiculously wide open in Week 4.
The pressure up front is going to come early and often. If Locker throws less than two interceptions and one forced fumble, I'll be genuinely surprised. It also doesn't help that Kenny Britt and Jared Cook left Sunday's game with injuries.
I could go through the long list of defensive standouts for Houston, but J.J. Watt deserves special mention here. He's been an absolute menace this season, and a lot of it has come with regular four man rushes. If he keeps this up, the defensive player of the year award isn't out of the question. Amazing.
I know 12 points is a lot to lay here, but unless we see another freak game from the Titans, I don't see this being close at all. Their only hope is the Texans have an uncharacteristic letdown and they win the turnover battle.
This is the NFL, so anything is possible, but if Houston doesn't win by at least 20, I'll be shocked. Look for another dominating victory on Sunday, and quite possibly a blowout. Ride the Texans until further notice.
NFL Pick: HOU -12.
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