I'll admit it, I was shocked when the betting lines came out for this weekend's NFL games, and the Houston Texans were posted as a 3-point favorite over the Washington Redskins. (It's since moved down slightly to the Texans laying 2.5 points.) If you assume that the Redskins' and Texans' home field advantages are each worth three points, that means that the Texans would be around a 9-point favorite at home against the Redskins, and that feels awfully high.
Whatever the case, ultimately, the Texans just need to win by one point this Sunday to extend their winning streak to a franchise record tying seven games (2011, the Texans won seven in a row to move from 3-3 to 10-3, before losing their final three games of the season with rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback). As the Texans come back from the bye week, the Redskins are coming off one of the stranger statistical anomalies in NFL history, a 16-3 win over Tampa Bay, in which the Bucs had over 500 yards of offense and scored just three points. (The Bucs had two missed field goals, and four turnovers, in case you're wondering.)
Hopefully, this game will look much different than that one, and if the Texans protect the football, they should come away with win number seven on the season. Let's take a look at the big storylines entering this game:
4. Bye week benefits
In his four seasons as Texans head coach, Bill O'Brien is 3-1 coming off of the bye week, with the one loss being the close loss to the Seahawks last season, Deshaun Watson's final game before tearing his ACL in practice the following week. The extra time between the win over the Broncos and the game this Sunday should help the Texans in two ways. First, they should be getting a bunch of guys back from injury, most notably cornerback Johnathan Joseph, cornerback Aaron Colvin, and slot receiver Keke Coutee. Second, these last two weeks of free time should be enough for newly acquired Demaryius Thomas to be fully fluent in the Texans' playbook. A fully actualized Thomas would be a big boost for an offense that is still trying to consistently hit its stride that it showed in Watson's six starts last season. (Truth be told, the Texans' defense is too good this season for them to get into shootouts like they did last season against New England, Kansas City, and Seattle, so statistically at least, Watson may not approach those numbers again consistently, any time soon. And if that's why, then obviously, that's a good thing.)
3. Game flow
Here is one of the stranger facts I've seen this deep into an NFL season:
#Redskins have led the entire game in all 6 of their wins. They've trailed the entire game in all 3 of their losses. They have never experienced a lead change through 10 weeks.— Nick Mensio (@NickMensio) November 11, 2018
I like this for the Texans, who in five of their six wins, have had to respond to deficits. Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather every Texans game look like the win over Jacksonville, their lone wire to wire victory, since that is far less stressful, but I like knowing that my team has the gumption and weapons to come from behind, if necessary.
2. D.J. Swearinger, unhinged
In case you haven't been following his career since leaving the Texans, D.J. Swearinger, former O'Brien Era discard after the 2014 season, has turned himself into one of the better safeties in the NFL. It sounds weird to even type that, since my memories of Swearinger largely involve (a) his committing undisciplined penalties, (b) his shoveling imaginary food into his mouth with imaginary spoons after big hits, (c) his bailing on a large tab for a vehicle-sized Batman decal on his vehicle, and (d) his dog biting Jadeveon Clowney. Thankfully, for those of us thirsting content, Swearinger shared his thoughts on his time in Houston on Instagram this week....
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#Houston I Appreciate Coach Gary Kubiak, Coach Wade Phillips, Coach Vance Joseph for Giving Me A Chance Of A Lifetime & Letting Me Be “Myself” My Rookie Year. When They Left My 2nd Year, the New Coaching Staff Would Always Worry About What I Was Doing Or Saying To Other Players ????????Well, the Young Swagg Had A Hard Time Adjusting To The New System Nor Did I Want To Play Linebacker Every Play, and I Also Was Late A Few Times Too Many...All Apart Of Growing Up & Learning To Be A Pro. There Was A MisUnderstanding With My Db Coach That Lead To Unprofessional Actions By My Head Coach (o’brien) That I Could No Longer Respect! Which Lead To Me Being Cut. That Same Coach Told Me I Would Be Outta The League In 3Years. Unfortunately, My God & Grind Had A Plan And Knew That 6years Later....I Would Make Him Eat His Words! #LiveIn5???? #2spoonzswagggu????????
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So we learned that, aside from a Strange Addiction To Capital Letters On Every Single Word, Swearinger was not an O'Brien guy. O'Brien apparently told him he'd be out of the league in three years. This means that it's now two straight games where O'Brien's honest, face-to-face assessment of a guy whom he was releasing became public in the week leading up to the game. (What up, Case Keenum?) I'm bracing myself for what Ben Jones has to say before next week's game against the Titans.
1. Redskins banged up offensive line
As far as actual X's and O's in this matchup, the biggest advantage appears to belong to the Texans' front seven, who will be going against a Redskins offensive line that is missing three of its five regular starters, including left tackle Trent Williams. Their right guard is former Texans castoff Tony Bergstrom, who was reportedly told by O'Brien that he was ugly and played guard like a sissy. (Just kidding, but anything's possible, at this point.) J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney should both feast in this game, and if they're able to force the normally mistake-averse Alex Smith into a couple turnovers, or, at the very least, force him into bad down and distance situations, the Texans should be in great shape here.
SPREAD: Texans -2.5
PREDICTION: Texans 24, Redskins 17
RECORD: 5-4 SU, 4-5 ATS
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.