If you want a glimpse at how crazy the 2022 NFL season has already been, look no further than the AFC South, where the Texans reside. While "crazy" might not be the word most of the country would use to describe this group of four teams — much more negative and colorful language would probably do — it IS crazy to consider if the Texans win on Sunday, and the other three games in the division play out as the oddsmakers see, the Texans will be in first place in the division on Sunday night.
The Texans are a 2.5 point underdog to the Chicago Bears in Chicago this weekend, so the only upset that needs to happen for the dream scenario to play out is at the hands of Davis Mills and company. Yes, that's little scary. However, continuing with the slate of games, here are the other three AFC South matchups:
Las Vegas at Tennessee (+2.5)
Kansas City at Indianapolis (+6.5)
Jacksonville at LA Chargers (-7)
So if the favorites win those three games AND the Texans pull off the very mild upset, the AFC South standings will look as such:
Basically, up would be down, down would be up, and glory would reign. At last for one week. As it is, we have a few things that we need to keep an eye on in Chicago on Sunday. Here they are:
4. Rookie cornerbacks
This game involves two highly renowned rookie cornerbacks from this past April's draft — Texans CB Derek Stingley, Jr. (3rd overall pick) and Bears CB Kyler Gordon (39th overall). Thus far, it's been some rough sledding for both, although Stingley has shown some signs that the Texans got the pick right. He was lit up by Courtland Sutton (7 catches, 122 yards receiving) at times in Denver, but made a few plays, too. Fortunately, there isn't really a Sutton-like threat (nor a Russell Wilson-like quarterback) on Chicago. Gordon has allowed 11 catches for 156 yards on the season so far, and he might draw Brandin Cooks, at times, as his assignment. Cooks is the most capable receiver in this game on Sunday. If Gordon draws Nico Collins, perhaps this is a "get well" game for Collins, who only has six catches in his first two games, coming off a preseason where he looked vastly improved.
3. Dameon Pierce
In Week 1, the big story for the Texans was "Why is Rex Burkhead getting the ball more than Dameon Pierce?" In Week 2, the story was "OK good, the Texans are inept offensively, but at least Pierce is showing flashes." On Sunday, if the story isn't "Yeah, Dameon Pierce breakout game!" then something went wrong, because the Bears stink at defending the run. Last week, Green Bay's Aaron Jones ran for 132 yards on 15 carries against the Bears. Lovie Smith and Pep Hamilton want to run the football, and this is the Sunday to do it. FEED PIERCE.
2. Keep Mills clean
One thing that will help the run game is some sort of credible passing game. In the first two games, there has been a distinct turning point for Davis Mills — the fourth quarter strip sack he suffered against the Colts in Week 1. Prior to that play, he had built a 20-6 lead in that game, and was passing at a 113.3 passer rating. Since that play — the sum total of the remainder of Week 1 plus the Denver game in Week 2 — Mills has been barely practice squad level, with a 60.3 passer rating. The key for Mills to get untracked will be keeping him clean and keeping the pass rush off of him. Through two games, Mills has an 88.3 passer rating in a clean pocket, and a horrific 55.3 rating under pressure.
1. Stop the run
As bad as the Bears have been at stopping the run, they've been pretty effective running the football on offense. In Week 2, despite trailing for almost the entire game versus Green Bay and getting no help from their quarterback, Justin Fields, the combination of David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert ran for 160 yards on 19 carries. The Texans lead the league in missed tackles on defense (30, according to Pro Football Focus), so shoring up their tackling will be a huge key for Houston. If they can get the Bears in obvious passing situations, then Justin Fields should be very generous with the turnovers, as he has already thrown two picks this season on just 28 passing attempts.
SPREAD: Texans +3
PREDICTION: Texans 17, Bears 16
SEASPON RECORD: 1-0-1 SU, 1-1 ATS
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.