The Oakland Raiders come to town on Sunday for a late afternoon game with the Houston Texans, the rare 3:25 p.m. kickoff in Houston, with a 3-3 record, smack dab in the middle of the muck that is the non-Patriots portion of the AFC. There are a lot of adjectives you can use to describe the Raiders franchise, historically and currently, but just go ahead and bite your tongue if one of the ones you use is "uninteresting."
There's a reason why this Jon Gruden-coached outfit was chosen for this past training camp's Hard Knocks, even if it did essentially turn into a five week infomercial of Gruden catchphrases and coaching techniques, and that is because the Raiders are typically intriguing, even amidst (hell, ESPECIALLY amidst) dysfunction. To that end, the Raiders' last few trips to NRG Stadium have been noteworthy for various reasons. In fact, let's start the "Four Things To Watch For" there:
4. Weird history in NRG Stadium
Here's a synopsis of the last three Raider trips to NRG Stadium....
October 9, 2011: Raiders 25, Texans 20
This was where the Raiders longtime owner Al Davis passed away during the week leading up to the game, and the Texans managed to lose at home to Hue Jackson, of all head coaches, in a game where they were favored by nearly a touchdown. Matt Schaub ended the game by throwing a pick in the end zone on 2nd and goal from the five yard line.
November 17, 2013: Raiders 28, Texans 23
This was during the tsunami of suck that was the 2013 season. Gary Kubiak started Case Keenum in this game, replaced him with Matt Schaub along the way, and ultimately the day will always be remembered for Andre Johnson leaving the field with a minute to go, seemingly out of protest of Matt Schaub being sanctioned to play in an NFL game.
January 7, 2017: Texans 27, Raiders 14
This is the only postseason win of Bill O'Brien's head coaching career, a double digit victory over rookie QB Connor Cook. (Derek Carr has his leg busted in the final week of the regular season.) Ironically, the only O'Brien playoff victory was probably the peak of Jadeveon Clowney's Texans career, as he had an interception in that game, capping what might have been his most impactful month of football as a Texan. Worth noting, J.J. Watt was out with a season-ending back injury.
So if there's a potential doppelgänger for this upcoming Sunday game, it would be that 2011 game after Davis' passing. Why? Well, Raider Hall of Fame DB Willie Brown passed away at the age of 78 a couple days ago. Brown was apparently still very active around the team, so if there is a rallying cry for a 7 point underdog, well, we've seen this before.
3. Texans secondary
Derek Carr returns to the city where he spent most of his childhood, and a majority of his high school career (Fort Bend Clements, y'all!) while his brother
showed Texans fans what it feels like to have their team bust out on a No. 1 overall pick played quarterback for the Texans. He will be going against a Texans' secondary that is depleted (Bradley Roby out, Johnathan Joseph banged up, Tashaun Gipson also banged up), but recently fortified with a familiar face to Carr — cornerback Gareon Conley, for whom the Texans traded a third round draft pick. With all of the injuries in the Texans' secondary, Conley will need to get up to speed quickly, as O'Brien intimated on Wednesday that it is highly likely Conley gets on the field this Sunday.
2. Deshaun Watson vs his QB Camp head counselor
Like most young quarterbacks coming out of college between 2009 and 2017, Texans QB Deshaun Watson made an appearance on Jon Gruden's QB Camp series, which ran on ESPN back when Gruden was the highest paid employee at the network. (Now, he's one of the highest paid head coaches in the league, in Year 2 of a ten year, $100 million deal. It's good to be Jon Gruden. Here you go, relive the magic of Gruden and Watson...
Watson has been rabbit turnover prone the last couple weeks (4 picks in his last 2 games), and the offensive line showed a few cracks once again, as Watson was sacked three times after staying fully clean the previous two weeks. Watson will be operating without Will Fuller for the first full game all season, as Fuller nurses a hamstring injury, so look for Kenny Stills to be an even bigger part of the passing game, as well as the tight ends.
1. Fast start
Over the last two seasons, the Texans have 12 come from behind wins. No team in the league has more than that. It's a neat stat that is certainly indicative of a certain intestinal fortitude to respond to in-game adversity. However, it's also an indicator that they fall behind WAY too much. This season, it's been accentuated even more. In their seven games this season, here's how the Texans' first offensive drive has gone:
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WEEK 1: PUNT (5 plays, 2 yards)
WEEK 2: PUNT (3 plays, 9 yards)
WEEK 3: FUMBLE (3 plays, 2 yards)
WEEK 4: PUNT (11 plays, 21 yards)
WEEK 5: PUNT (3 plays, -6 yards)
WEEK 6: FUMBLE (1 play, -7 yards)
WEEK 7: PUNT (6 plays, 27 yards)
TOTAL: 5 punts, 2 turnovers (32 plays, 48 yards)
In their last five games, the Texans have fallen behind in the first quarter by scores of 10-0, 3-0, 7-0, 17-3, and 7-0. This is the recipe for letting inferior teams hang around, which the Texans have done in every home game this season. That can't happen on Sunday. They need this game to finish the first half of the season at an acceptable 5-3 record.
SPREAD: Texans -7
PREDICTION: Texans 34, Raiders 20
SEASON RECORD: 4-3 SU, 4-3 ATS