So last night I dozed off during the Thursday Night Football game, and the score was New England 27, Kansas City 21. I woke up about half an hour later, and it was Kansas City 42, New England 27. I still haven't gone to my DVR this morning to see exactly how that happened. Nor have I looked in the mirror yet, because I think I might have woken up in some sort of an alternative universe where I have hair and washboard abs. I don't want to be disappointed.
That's my roundabout way of saying that I am SO happy we have actual games to discuss, and by football God, if we haven't already slightly changed the script on two of the Texans' early season games — all of a sudden, there's a glimmer of hope in Week 3 against the Pats (a game I have them losing in my season-long prediction) and, all of a sudden, Week 5 against the Chiefs looks freaking daunting (a game I also have them losing).
For now, all that matters is Week 1 in NRG Stadium against the Jacksonville Jaguars, so let's look at four keys to what should be a raucous Sunday respite from hurricane fatigue here in Houston...
4. Emotional energy management
I don't know if anyone will be measuring the crowd noise at the moment when the public address announcer says "NUMBER 99.... JAY.... JAY.... WATTTTTTTT!!!" but they need to. This will be the loudest you've ever heard a Houston Texans crowd. Mark it down. And if the defense gets to take the field first, may God have mercy on the soul of Blake Bortles. That said, this emotion is something the Texans will need to manage early in the game, and protect against a letdown in the second half. Longer term, it's going to be really difficult to come back on a short week on the road against the Bengals after the nuclear hype for this Week 1 game.
3. Kicking game, Fairbairn debut
One of the more surprising roster decisions made by Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien (and for this particular decision, probably special teams coordinator Larry Izzo) was the choice to let veteran Nick Novak go, and keep the second year kicker, Ka'imi Fairbairn. The reason was pretty simple — Fairborn's live, long leg feels like a better risk than keeping the very limited (but proven accurate) leg of Novak. We will see if this works out. It should help out the coverage unit on kickoffs, as more touchbacks means fewer chances for opposing teams to return kicks, and the fewer returns, the better against these units. Nut-cutting time will come on the day when Fairbairn needs to make a big kick in the waning moments of a game. If that day is Sunday, then something went horribly wrong.
2. Offensive line
Let's just cut right to the chase — Duane Brown is not walking through that door. Not this week, and he certainly won't be there for Week 2, given that it's a Thursday game, so now Houston's best offensive lineman has never played a snap in the regular season. (Looking at you, Nick Martin...but not in the "you did something wrong" kind of way, more in the "please, be good at football" kind of way) The tackles are first-time starter Kendall Lamm and journeyman Breno Giacomini, and the guards, Xavier Su'a-Filo and Jeff Allen, are one of the least productive tandems in the league. If everything offensively starts in the trenches, the Texans will have a hard time getting out of first gear. I think they will move the ball okay on the ground, but in this game, I am putting the over/under at 3.5 sacks of Tom Savage.
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1. Torment Bortles
Here is where the Texans can help out their (likely) anemic offense — sacks and turnovers that help swing field position, and give the offense shorter fields to work on. Last season, the Texans defense was fundamentally sound, as seen in their league-leading ranking in yardage allowed. However, they were among the bottom eight teams in the league in sacks and turnover margin. This is where the return of a healthy J.J. Watt will be felt. Adding his explosive playmaking to a rising Jadeveon Clowney and the steady production of Whitney Mercilus in that front seven will cause havoc on Sunday.
I'll say it again...pray for Blake Bortles.
SPREAD: Texans -6.5
PREDICTION: Texans 23, Jaguars 10
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.