Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans (-1, 41 o/u)
The Houston Texans must be pleased that HBO cameras won’t be following them onto the field for their season opener this weekend. Unfortunately for them, running back Arian Foster won’t be on the field, either, when the team welcomes the Kansas City Chiefs to NRG Stadium this Sunday, Sep. 13 (1:00 PM Eastern).
The Hard Knocks stars were favored by 2.5 when the line opened, but that spread has shrunk since Foster got injured. The spoon that stirred the offense’s Cheerios, Foster had over 1,500 combined yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Alfred Blue and his 3.1 yards per carry will now lead an uninspiring backfield that HBO watchers know has issues, particularly around the goal line.
This is good news for a Chiefs defense that was a brutal 28th against the run last season. The absence of Derrick Johnson at linebacker was something of an excuse, but even if this unit isn’t markedly improved in that area this year, they should still be able to contain Blue and company this weekend.
Thus, Brian Hoyer and the Houston passing game will need to find a measure of success against a KC pass defense that ranked second last season. Hoyer was given the starting job in Houston because he was “more consistent” than Ryan Mallett in preseason; but the journeyman quarterback proved to be anything but last season. In 13 starts with the Browns in 2014, he was all over the map, posting QB ratings ranging from 127.1 to 29.3, including four games where he posted a sub-50-percent completion rate.
Hoyer will need to be on his game in order to get the ball to their number one offensive weapon, WR DeAndre Hopkins. But facing an already-solid Chief secondary bolstered by rookie corner Marcus Peters and the return of Eric Berry – as well as Justin Houston in the pass rush – will make for tough slogging through the air.
The Houston D should provide their own challenge for Kansas City’s offense, but KC is used to playing tough defenses. The Chiefs played five teams that finished top-five in total defense last year, averaging a respectable 18 points-per-game. That number should figure to go up after the team brought in a true number-one receiver for QB Alex Smith, plucking Jeremy Maclin from the Eagles.
The last time these two teams met, back in 2013, Kansas City won a tight 17-16 affair in Missouri. Sunday’s game should be another low-scoring affair, so the under is initially tempting, but it’s already at an extremely low 41. Considering the Chiefs went 10-6 against the spread last year, including a 5-2 record as underdogs, taking the Chiefs and the single point looks like the play.
Pick: Chiefs +1.
(Photo Credit: Larry Uren (Originally uploaded to Flickr. [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/] Photo may appear cropped.)