Houston @ New Orleans
Recommendation: HOU +7
Cover Probability: 54.39%
Cover Edge: 3.83%
-WR Keke Coutee (ankle) is being limited in practice.
New Orleans Saints:
-DI Sheldon Rankins (Achilles) is limited in practice. He tore his achilles in January and should be considered extremely questionable.
-LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder) is limited in practice, but HC Sean Payton is “hopeful” he’ll be good to go week 1.
When Houston has the ball:
The Texans capped off an 11-5 season last year by getting dusted by the Colts in the first round of the playoffs. Their 11 win season was likely misleading, as they did it against a cupcake schedule that ranked 4th softest. It’ll be interesting to see what they do this year against what projects to be on the of the more difficult schedules in the league.
Though their offense struggled last year (21st in offensive DVOA), the problem isn’t QB Deshaun Watson. Watson completed 67.5% of his passes for 4,400 yards, 27 TDs, and 10 picks. He had a respectable PFF grade of 80.9.
The problem has always been Watson’s style of play and the Texans personnel that goes with it — Watson holds onto the ball longer than a hipster can make a 5 syllable coffee order at Starbucks, get said coffee, then post on Instagram a picture of the coffee with their name spelled wrong and some dumb hashtag. Yet he plays behind what is consistently one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. The result? Watson took a league worst 62 sacks last year.
As for this year, the offensive line is largely unchanged. A week ago, they did trade for LT Laremy Tunsil, who’s been a solid player and should be a massive improvement. They also drafted Tytus Howard in the first round and Max Scharping in the 2nd. Howard was initially a tackle, but with the trade for Tunsil he should slide over and play LG. Scharping is likely starting the year on the bench. The rest of the line is C Nick Martin, RG Zach Fulton, and RT Seantrel Henderson. I have nothing good to say about any of them, so I’ll do as my mother suggests and won’t say anything at all.
The passing attack is going to run through DeAndre Hopkins. Last year, Watson threw an absurd 33 percent of his passes to Hopkins — nobody else in the league eclipsed 30 percent. Despite this, Hopkins literally didn’t drop a single ball all year. The dude is a freak. The Texans will also get back Will Fuller, who has been rife with injuries over the years — but we don’t give a shit about that for now since we’re just betting week to week. Fuller is a speedster that runs routes deep down the field, a perfect fit for a QB like Watson who likes to hold onto the rock and chuck it deep. Behind Hopkins and Fuller is slot man Keke Coutee and newly acquired Kenny Stills.
On the ground, the Texans lost starting RB Lamar Miller for the year in the preseason, and let Alfred Blue walk. They did pick up Duke Johnson who projects to be the starter — Johnson has shown solid efficiency numbers, particular in the passing game, but has never had the volume to show for it. Carlos Hyde – who leads the league in NFL teams played for — will also get some work, but I wouldn’t expect much.
The Saints defensive line lost ED Alex Okafor and DI Tyeler Davison in the off-season. Okafor will be replaced by 2018 first round pick Marcus Davenport, which seems like an improvement since Davenport had better raw numbers across the board despite playing in roughly 1/3 of the snaps as Okaford last year. Davison is replaced by ex Patriot Malcolm Brown, so they should be fine there as well. ED/all world pass rushing extraordinaire Cam Jordon is back to anchor the line. Their issue in this one is the availability of DI Sheldon Rankins, who tore his achilles in January yet somehow didn’t end up on the PUP. Behind Rankins is David Onyemata, who is suspended for this one. That could make things a bit easier on the Texans offensive line. Further, the Saints should have issues at linebacker, and it’ll be interesting to see if Duke Johnson can take advantage of those matchups.
The star of the Saints defensive backfield is CB Marshon Lattimore. The 2017 defensive rookie of the year took a step back last year according to virtually any stat you want to check, and his 10.7 yards per target allowed was third worst in the league. That said, he still should be treated as a premier corner, but he’ll have his work cut out for him as he projects to shadow DeAndre Hopkins in this one. Next to Lattimore will be Eli Apple, who came over to the Saints in week 8 last year, he was an improvement over Ken Crowley, but still was a lot of “meh.” The key to the Saints secondary is their depth, and they return virtually everybody from last year. That said, there just simply aren’t a lot of difference makers here.
When New Orleans has the ball:
The Saints offense fucks. Everyone would be marveling over the ageless wonder Drew Brees if Tom Brady weren’t a year older and doing the same stuff, but we should give credit where it’s due. His 94 grade from PFF was the highest in the league last year. If father time is catching up on him, we haven’t seen it yet. Brees should look to pepper the now richer than rich Michael Thomas, but there are questions behind him. The most likely candidate to step up behind Thomas is last years third round pick Tre’Quan Smith. 34 year old Ted Ginn should also be in the mix as the deep threat. They also took a step up at TE this off-season, replacing Ben Watson with Jared Cook.
On the ground, the Saints have enjoyed a two headed monster backfield with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. With Ingram departing for the Ravens, Kamara will take over permanently. Kamara is naturally one of the top backs in the league and has the skills to be a 3-down back, so even if Ingram is solid, this isn’t a concern for the Saints offense.
On defense, the MO for the Texans has been to get to the QB or else. They’ve had boat loads of pass rushing talent with JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Jadaveom Clowney, but they’ve struggled in the secondary. After refusing to play Clowney in the off-season, the Texans ended up trading him to the Seahawks for a third round pick. That should allow 2016 UDFA Brennan Scarlett to step up in Clowney’s absence — Scarlett has played well, but on extremely limited snaps.
The heart and sole of the secondary continues to be CB Johnathan Joseph. Though Joseph has enjoyed a respectable career in Houston, he’s now 35 (!!!) years old. Next to him is newly acquired Bradley Roby, who sucks, and incumbent Aaron Colvin, who also sucks. Though the Texans lost do-it-all Tyrann Mathieu, they brought in Tashaun Gipson from the Jaguars. Gipson has similar abilities to play all over the field. He’ll play next to FS Justin Reid, who played very well in run support and coverage last year.
Long story short, the Saints are a large favorite at home, and the model simply thinks 7 is too many points. Let’s get it.
That’s it for now, bitches.