Chicago Bears at Houston Texans (-6, 44 o/u)
For a kid with only seven career starts under his belt, Brock Osweiler already has a pretty good grasp on the Chicago Bears (6-10, 8-8 ATS). Despite playing in separate conferences, Osweiler will be going up against his former head coach, John Fox, for the second straight season as he makes his debut with the Houston Texans (9-7, 8-8 ATS) at NRG Stadium this Sunday (1:00 PM Eastern).
Osweiler’s first career start came in Week 11 of last year, a narrow 17-15 win over the Bears in Chicago, in which he completed 74-percent of his passes and threw two TDs. Though a small sample size, it was easily his best game as a pro; but will the fifth-year QB be able to replicate his success this week with a whole new supporting cast?
Surely it doesn’t sound that hard; after all, the Texans got wins last season with the likes of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden under center. Throwing to DeAndre Hopkins while getting the support of a top-ten defense can make a QB’s life a lot easier.
Osweiler isn’t the only new face in this offense. Running back Lamar Miller and rookie wide receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller figure to feature prominently in a more opened-up Texans passing attack. The interior of Houston’s offensive line also got an overhaul with center Ben Jones and guard Brandon Brooks leaving this offseason.
The new look o-line will get tested by an improved Chicago front-seven. Since the last time Osweiler saw this D, they’ve surrounded stalwart defensive tackle Eddie Goldman with the likes of defensive end Akiem Hicks, linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, and rookie pass rusher Leonard Floyd. Osweiler knows not to hold the ball long against this front after getting sacked by Chicago five times last year.
But the Bears’ D has a glaring weakness: the secondary. If Osweiler is capable of playing to the level of his sizeable contract, the Houston offense should have a productive day. And the Bears will be hard-pressed to keep up.
Jay Cutler had a strong season last year, posting a 92.3 passer rating, despite his top three receivers (Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, and Eddie Royal) missing a combined 30 games. But the optimism of having his top targets healthy has been tempered after offensive coordinator Adam Gase left for Miami. With Matt Forte also gone, there are a lot of questions about how this unit will perform, and having to face J.J. Watt and company right out of the gate is a stiff test.
While they’re far from the most talented team in the NFL, the Bears were a tough play last year, going 6-2 against the spread on the road, and 5-3 straight-up. Chicago has never beaten the Texans in three tries, but Fox’s familiarity with Osweiler should allow Chicago to make his debut an uncomfortable one. In a sloppy game where a lot of new-look units find their footing, I like the Bears to keep this one close.
Pick: Chicago (+6).
Photo credit: Victor Araiza (Originally uploaded to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/].