On the calendar, Week 5 of the NFL season may be just a four-week difference from the season opener, but in Houston, they feel like a lifetime apart. Here is the reality of what the Texans are looking at on Sunday:
They enter the weekend in a three-way tie with Tennessee and Jacksonville atop the AFC South at 2-2. Jacksonville is a double-digit underdog at Pittsburgh, and I will cautiously call that a lock for Steeler win — cautiously because the Jags are as uneven as it gets this season. The Titans play the Dolphins in Miami on Sunday, and while the Dolphins stink, the Titans might be playing with Matt Cassel at quarterback, which cancels out any Dolphin stench.
Even if the Titans win, the Texans would have the tiebreaker in a two-way tie with them at 3-2, thanks to the 57-14 beheading of the Titans last Sunday. So I explain all of this to say that when we wake up Monday morning, if the Texans can take that next step Sunday night against the Chiefs, we could be waking up to an above .500, first-place team.
Again, Week 1 feels like forever ago. But the Texans have to handle their business. What are the keys to doing so? Let's examine...
4. Growing the Deshaun playbook
Last week against Dick LeBeau's defense, Bill O'Brien countered Tennessee's octogenarian, zone-blitz wizard with a series of creative, Deshaun Watson-centric schemes and plays that had the Titans on their heels the entire first half. In the first twelve minutes of the game, we saw a pistol option for a touchdown, multiple roll outs, a quarterback draw or two, some fake end arounds and a partridge in a pear tree. Bill O'Brien has great respect for KC defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, so I would expect that we will see some further wrinkles on Sunday night. It's been a lot of fun watching O'Brien actually tap into his spatial thinking gene, and construct this Watson-led machine. The return of Will Fuller helped on Sunday even more than we thought it would, opening up the middle of the field, taking attention away from DeAndre Hopkins and giving Watson a true deep threat.
3. KC SPEED
Speaking of speed, Kansas City has it on offense, with maybe the two fastest players in the league at their respective positions — rookie Kareem Hunt at running back and wide receiver/punt returner/Swiss Army knife Tyreek Hill. With Hunt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney will need to be disciplined holding the edge, which is easier said than done, especially for Clowney, who's given up some huge plays this season when overcommitting inside, including Mariota's 34-yard TD run on Sunday. With Hill, it will be up to the safeties to play disciplined downfield and special teams to tackle if they can get their hands on him, and keep their lanes covering kicks. Essentially, "discipline" is the Sesame Street word of the day on Sunday.
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2. Young kickers
We haven't mentioned Ka'imi Fairbairn much, in large part because he's been super consistent and hasn't done anything where we would curse him on Twitter (looking at you, Randy Bullock!), but the second-year kicker out of UCLA has been a nice find for this team. He hasn't missed a field goal yet, and he has been a touchback machine on kickoffs. On the other side, Chiefs rookie Harrison Butker has already had to kick a waning moments game-winner on Monday night against the Redskins, so he will be ready, presumably, if this game comes down to a kick. A "pick em" game could ultimately ride on the legs of one of these two.
1. Fast start
Last week, the Texans came out and made statements on their first defensive and offensive series — J.J. Watt batted down a pass, Andre Hal picked off Mariota, Deshaun Watson hit a big play to Bruce Ellington, pistol option for a TD — it was all glorious. Last season against the Chiefs, the Texans jumped out to a 13-3 lead and were able to play keep away, even with Brock Osweiler at quarterback (granted, Brock was not "full on dumpster fire Brock" at that point in Week 2, but still), and squeeze out a 19-12 win to move to 2-0. Against a Chiefs defense that can get after the passer, being able to keep them on their heels and stay multi-dimensional is key, not to mention the crowd engagement on a Sunday night if the Texans can grab an early lead. This is one game in which the Texans don't want to have to play catch up.
SPREAD: Pick Em
PREDICTION: Chiefs 23, Texans 17
RECORD: 2-2 SU, 2-2 ATS
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