The weekend is finally here, which means it is time to place your NFL bets! Last week, we went 1-2 for the fifth straight week. We got burned by a fourth quarter offensive explosion in New England, and a second-half offensive freeze-up from the Cardinals. That brings us to a paltry 8-12-1 on the season for the NFL portion of our Best Bets series. In terms of units, we only dropped 0.76 for the weekend, which puts us down 1.58 units on the year.
We aren’t too far gone yet. Getting back to positive is still within striking distance. This week’s match-ups look pretty ugly, but it all pays out just the same. All lines come via Draft Kings as of Friday evening. Also, be sure to catch my, and my fellow ATB bettors’, locks and underdogs of the week on Around The Book. Let’s get started and dive into the best NFL bets for Week 8!
Texans at Panthers: Panthers ML (+145)
Let’s kick things off with a (mildly) hot take. This is finally going to be the week in which the Panthers get their first win of the season. It won’t be easy. The Texans are better than expected this year. However, there is reason to believe Carolina can get it done.
As well as Houston is playing this year, this is still very much a rebuilding team. They don’t have a ton of high-level talent, and their rookie quarterback is still developing. There are no easy wins for a team in their position.
The Panthers are in a very similar boat. While they haven’t played quite as well as the Texans, it feels like that win is right around the corner. This pick is rooted more in vibes than data, but sometimes that’s what you need.
Vikings at Packers: Over 42 (-108)
We are switching it up this week and betting on the over. While this NFC North match-up may be ugly, it has significant potential for points. The Vikings have an offense that can put up points and a defense that struggles to stop anyone. On the flip side, Green Bay is average to below-average on both sides of the ball.
Minnesota should have no problem scoring against the Packers. Also, Green Bay should be able to score more than usual against a weak Vikings defense. It doesn’t hurt that we get the added chaos of a divisional matchup.
The most advantageous part of this pick is the line. At 42, it is clear the bookies are trying to adjust to all the low-scoring games we’ve seen this year. This is the time to pounce. Expect both of these teams to be somewhere in the mid 20s. The over may not hit by a lot, but it will get there. That is all that matters.
Chargers at Bears: Over 46.5 (-110)
Let’s keep the over bets going with some Sunday night fireworks. Both of these teams can score, and neither play great defense. Also, it seems as though the Bears offense hasn’t missed a beat with Tyson Bagent at quarterback in place of the injured Justin Fields.
Offensively, the Bears and Chargers combine to average a little over 46 points per game. That doesn’t look great for the over, but it gets a lot better when you look at the defenses. On that side of the ball, these two teams give up over 52 points per game combined.
It is hard to say who will win this game, but we know there will be plenty of scoring. This game will likely be a race to 30 points. Hammer the over.
If anybody thought this NFL season was going to be a normal one, they were clearly mistaken. Severe injuries to star players like Aaron Rodgers, Nick Chubb and Saquon Barkley have already taken place, and we have several fanbases already calling for the termination of their coaching staff. There is a lot of football left, but there is a lot that we can learn from this past week’s games in the NFL. Here’s what we learned from Week 2.
What We Learned in Week 2 #1:
It’s Time To Be Concerned In Chicago
The Bears and quarterback Justin Fields were a lot of analysts pick to take the next step. Fields looked promising throughout the end of last season, and the team added play-makers across the board in DJ Moore, Tremaine Edmunds, and Yannick Ngakoue to help get the roster to the next level. However, after two weeks Fields looks completely lost in the pocket, and is seemingly completely misreading defenses missing wide open targets, and called out the coaches for his “robotic” play to start the season off.
Fields since clarified these comments, noting that “he has to play better”, but the fact that the comments were even made by the franchise quarterback in the first place is alarming. As for the defense, they are playing poorly, and are battling injuries in the secondary. On top of that it has already lost its defensive coordinator to unknown circumstances (more information on that when the situation becomes clearer).
Luckily for the Bears, they have multiple draft picks again in this upcoming draft to add talent if the team can’t turn things around soon. Time will tell if it is going to be this coaching staff and regime that are the ones to make those selections.
What We Learned in Week 2 #2:
Daniel Jones Isn’t Worth The Contract
The Giants squeaked by the Arizona Cardinals this past weekend after a crazy second half comeback down 20-0. However the storyline from that game shouldn’t be the comeback, or even the Giants injuries to Andrew Thomas and Saquon Barkley, but the play of Daniel Jones not warranting the 4 year $160 million dollar contract he signed this past off-season.
Jones through two weeks has 425 yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Those stats don’t look horrible until you dig into them, as the majority of them came in the second half of this week’s game against Arizona, who most deem as the worst team in the NFL. He played well in the second half against Arizona, but will we see that play consistently against much better teams? That is still to be determined.
Luckily for the Giants, the contract does have an out after next season if Jones does not elevate his game to take the Giants to the next level. It is going to be hard to buy into the Giants as a serious threat in the NFC East with Dallas, Philadelphia, and now seemingly Washington in that division. But more than that, it is hard to buy into the Giants with Daniel Jones as their quarterback moving forward.
What We Learned in Week 2 #3:
Brandon Staley Should Have Been Fired Last Season
This take should not be a surprise to anybody. Brandon Staley’s coaching malpractice is costing the Chargers football games. Justin Herbert is arguably the most gifted quarterback in the league when it comes to physical football traits, and Kellen Moore is one of the league’s most creative offensive minds in the league. The Chargers are fourth in the league in total offensive yards and sixth in the league in points through two weeks. Herbert is playing at a near MVP level, and the Chargers are getting contributions from everybody on offense.
So why are the Chargers 0-2? Their defense.
The Chargers have allowed the most total yards through two weeks this season at 438 yards per game, and the third most points through two weeks at 31.5 a game. With the amount of money invested in players like Khalil Mack, J.C Jackson, Derwin James, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and Joey Bosa, the defense should be performing better than it is. The blame should be placed on nobody else other than the architect of the defense; head coach Brandon Staley.
Staley was on the hot seat after last season and that seat has only gotten hotter through two weeks this year.
What We Learned in Week 2 #4:
It’s Time To Respect Eric Bienemy As A Viable Head Coaching Candidate
Eric Bienemy has gone through numerous NFL head coaching interviews over the last several seasons after successful years with Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs, but to no avail. This past off-season, Bienemy took a chance, bet on himself, and took the offensive coordinator job of the Washington Commanders. He did so without certainty at the QB position.
Through two weeks, the Commanders are 2-0, and Sam Howell looks like a true NFL starter. Last season the Commanders ranked in the bottom half in points per game, yards per game, and passing yards per game. Under Bienemy this season, the Commanders are seventh in the league in points per game, and look like a much more efficient offense.
If Bienemy is able to keep this performance up throughout the entire season, he can shake off the comments about needing Andy Reid or Patrick Mahomes, and has a really good chance at making a case for this own head coaching gig next off-season.
What We Learned in Week 2 #5:
Houston Is Heading In The Right Direction
This team is not good, but man they are fun to watch. The Texans are letting rookie quarterback CJ Stroud sling the ball all over the place, and the offense has looked quite dynamic in his first two starts, averaging the fifth most passing yards in the league. Stroud looks electric, even without a consistent running game behind him or offensive line in front of him, and Nico Collins and Tank Dell are a very fun duo at wide receiver to watch.
However, the team is 0-2, and that should not be a surprise. The roster is not filled with enough talent, yet, to compete at a high enough level to win games consistently, and that was expected. One thing Houston’s front office, coaching staff, and fans can be happy about is the development of their new franchise QB. It has been a long time since Houston has gotten consistent play at the position, and now they finally have their guy, Stroud, at the helm of this rebuild.
Getting Stroud reps and getting more talent around him should be the next step of this regime to take the leap into consistently winning games.
A division with a lot of unknowns, the AFC South could be close this season. Young quarterbacks, elite running backs, and young defensive linemen are showcased in this division. Who will come out on top? I break down the offseason moves and predict each AFC South team’s season in this preview.
AFC South Preview
4. Houston Texans
Key losses – DT Vincent Taylor, S Justin Reid, LB Tae Davis, OT Geron Christian, QB Tyrod Taylor, OLB Jake Martin, TE Jordan Akins, OT Marcus Cannon, QB Deshaun Watson
Key additions – HC Lovie Smith, CB Steven Nelson, OG A.J. Cann, DE Mario Addison, OLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, TE O.J. Howard, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, QB Kyle Allen, CB M.J. Stweart, FB Andy Janovich, DE Jerry Hughes, CB Derek Stingley Jr., OG Kenyon Green, S Jalen Pitre, WR John Metchie III, LB Christian Harris, RB Dameon Pierce
Re-signed – OLB Kamu Grugier-Hill (1-year), ILB Neville Hewitt (1-year)
Houston went 3-14 last season and was one of the worst all-around teams in the league. They added some talent, as well as a new head coach in Lovie Smith. Now, Smith comes in to try and help this team move on from quarterback Deshaun Watson. After finally trading him, Davis Mills looks to become the franchise guy.
The worst offense in the league last season, the Texans badly need something to change. Davis Mills didn’t look that bad last season, and still has some weapons. While Brandin Cooks is a solid wideout, he will need to lead the way next to Nico Collins, who’s trying to prove he can make it in this league. At tight end, they have Pharaoh Brown and Brevin Jordan, who will need to step up if either wants to become a permanent NFL starter.
The offensive line still needs some work, but has a solid tackles in Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard. However, that’ll help out QB Davis Mills more than it will the rushing attack. Rookie Dameon Pierce is generating buzz as he looks to have a huge season running the ball. This offense will still be one of the worst in the league, but I expect a jump from dead last.
The defensive side of the ball wasn’t much better, as they ranked 31st in the NFL. With a bottom five defensive line still, I don’t expect that to change. Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes are veterans who can bring some pressure, but are in the twilight of their careers. The worst part for the Texans is their linebacker corps is even worse. Christian Kirksey isn’t a quality starter, and they will be looking at rookie Christian Harris to bring some energy.
The Texans added to the secondary early in the draft by selecting cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. Stingley can become the long-term CB1 in Houston, but past him there isn’t much. Rookie Jalen Pitre will be the slot corner, although we don’t know what to expect there. They have arguably the worst secondary in the league unless the rookies show up and show out.
The Texans are still rebuilding, so I don’t expect a playoff berth. But I do expect them to improve upon last year. I have them going 5-12 and 2-4 against the AFC South. Davis Mills will be the player to watch as he looks to earn the franchise’s trust.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Key losses – LB Damien Wilson, DT Taven Bryan, WR D.J. Chark, OG A.J. Cann, ILB Myles Jack, OG Andrew Norwell, WR Laviska Shenault Jr.
Key additions – HC Doug Pederson, WR Christian Kirk, OG Brandon Scherff, LB Foyesade Oluokun, CB Darious Williams, DE Foley Fatukasi, WR Zay Jones, TE Evan Engram, DE Arden Key, DE Travon Walker, LB Devin Lloyd, OL Luke Fortner, LB Chad Muma
Re-signed – DE Adam Gotsis (1-year)
Extensions – OT Cam Robinson (3-years, $54 million)
The Urban Meyer experiment failed miserably in Jacksonville, as they fired the former head coach after starting the season 2-11. They would finish the year 3-14 and earn the #1 pick in the NFL Draft. Top pick Travon Walker will look to become a focal point on this team during their rebuild.
The 27th ranked offense last season should improve this year. New head coach Doug Pederson will look to turn quarterback Trevor Lawrence into the star he is projected to be. Wideouts Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Marvin Jones Jr. create a solid trio for Lawrence to find, and should open up the field. It will be tough though, as the Jaguars offensive line ranks towards the bottom of the league.
The running back room should be fun to watch, as Travis Etienne Jr. will finally make his NFL debut this season. The pass-catching back should create a nice duo with James Robinson, who burst onto the scene after breaking the record for most scrimmage yards from an undrafted free agent his rookie year. The offense should improve this season, and has the potential to become top 20.
The defense did a little better than the offense in 2021, as they finished 20th in the NFL in total defense. They have an interesting defensive line that includes three first-round picks. Josh Allen, K’Lavon Chaisson, and Travon Walker will all look to bring the pressure and remind people why they were first-round selections.
At linebacker, the Jaguars have Foyesade Oloukon, Devin Lloyd, and Chad Muma to take over after losing Myles Jack in free agency. The young core will look to prove they can compete in this league under Doug Pederson.
Lastly, the secondary added two cornerbacks, rookie Tyson Campbell and Darious Williams, to create an interesting trio at corner next to Shaquill Griffin. The secondary could hold them back, as they have one of the worst safety duos in the league.
The Jaguars are looking to bring back Sacksonville, but it might not be this year. I predict that Jacksonville will finish 6-11 and go 3-3 against the AFC South. Trevor Lawrence will look to make a jump without Urban Meyer there.
2. Tennessee Titans
Key losses – OG Rodger Saffold, OT David Quessenberry, WR AJ Brown, ILB Jayon Brown, WR Julio Jones, P Brett Kern
Key additions – WR Robert Woods, TE Austin Hooper, OT Jamarco Jones, S A.J. Moore, CB Ugo Amadi, WR Treylon Burks, CB Roger McCreary, OL Nicholas Petit-Frere, QB Malik Willis, RB Hassan Haskins
Re-signed – K Reggie Bullock (2-years), RB Dontrell Hilliard (1-year), C Ben Jones (2-years)
Extensions – HC Mike Vrabel (1-year)
The Titans earned the #1 seed in the AFC last season, but lost their first playoff game after the bye. They finished 12-5, and decided it was time to part ways with superstar wide receiver A.J. Brown. They shipped him to the Eagles and will try to make it back to the playoffs without him.
The 17th ranked offense last season was heavily reliant again on running back Derrick Henry. He is the focal point of this team, but will run behind a lackluster offensive line. It’s one of the worst groups in the league and without Henry, it would show. With their best lineman, tackle Taylor Lewan, coming back worse from an ACL tear, there is legitimate concern they can get the job done.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is looking to improve on the team’s 24th ranked passing game, but it will be tougher without A.J. Brown. The new weapons in rookie Treylon Burks and former Ram Robert Woods could be a solid duo to throw to, but Woods is still recovering from a torn ACL. The tight end spot is shaky with Geoff Swaim, so I don’t expect much from the passing attack this season.
The defense was 12th last season after dominating against the run. They should dominate again with a top ten defensive line. Jeffrey Simmons is the star, followed by Denico Autry, Bud Dupree, and Harold Landry III to help bring pressure. It makes a mid-tier linebacker group’s job easier, as Zach Cunningham leads the way as a great run stopper.
The secondary will be key. They struggled a year ago, but get Caleb Farley back, who missed his entire rookie season with an injury. They have a young trio of cornerbacks who could make a splash this season. The safety tandem is headlined by Kevin Byard, who is one of the best in the game. Armani Hooker and Byard are trying to lead the young corners to a better finish this season.
Mike Vrabel is a fantastic coach, but Ryan Tannehill will hold this team back. I have them finishing 9-8, missing the playoffs after going 4-2 in the AFC South. This could be Tannehill’s last year, so he has to make the most of it.
1. Indianapolis Colts
Key losses – QB Carson Wentz, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, RB Marlon Mack, OG Chris Reed, OG Mark Glowinski, S George Odum, DE Kemoko Turay, WR T.Y. Hilton, CB Rock Ya-Sin
Key additions – QB Matt Ryan, CB Stephon Gilmore, QB Nick Foles, CB Brandon Facyson, FS Rodney McLeod, OT Dennis Kelly, DE Yannick Ngakoue, P Matt Haack, WR Alec Pierce, TE Jelani Woods, OL Bernhard Raimann, S Nick Cross
Re-signed – TE Mo Alie-Cox (3-years)
The Colts finished last season 9-8, missing the playoffs after an 11-5 season the year before. They brough in quarterback Matt Ryan as an upgrade over Carson Wentz with hopes of a playoff return. With talent added on both sides of the ball, the Colts may be a real threat in the AFC.
The Carson Wentz-led Colts finished 16th in the NFL in total offense a season ago, but now Matt Ryan is at the helm. He is a decent improvement, and will look to help wideout Michael Pittman Jr. grow into a star. However, the receiving corps behind Pittman is below average. They will need tight end Mo Alie-Cox to play a big role in the passing game to become a top 15 passing team.
This offense is centered around running back Jonathan Taylor. The young back showed he is a superstar last season, and has the highest expectations of all running backs going into this year. With a top ten offensive line, including the best offensive lineman in the game Quenton Nelson, Taylor should have no problem leading this offense to a playoff berth.
The defense last season ranked identical to the offense, 16th in the NFL. They added Stephon Gilmore to the secondary, which gives them a big boost. The secondary is still in the bottom half of the league, but if Julian Blackmon can come back and breakout, they could move up in the rankings.
They have one of the best linebacker corps in the league, with superstar Darius Leonard next to Bobby Okereke. If Okereke can play like he did in 2019, they should be the best in the NFL. With the defensive line gaining Yannick Ngakoue to help create a force with superstar defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, they should be much improved this season, and eyeing a top ten finish.
The addition of Matt Ryan should boost this team towards winning the AFC South. I have the Colts finishing 10-7 after going 3-3 against the rest of the AFC South. Expect a close finish between Indianapolis and Tennessee.
This season, the NFL has allowed teams to have more than one colored helmet to wear. The rule change saw 13 NFL franchises introduce new helmets for their alternate uniforms.
Before I begin, I want to clarify what I ranked these helmets based on. There were three factors that went into my ranking: 1. Does the helmet itself look good? 2. Does the helmet fit with the rest of the uniform? 3. Could the team have done more with the helmet? With that in mind, here is my ranking for these new helmets.
The New NFL Alternate Helmets: 13-6
13. Chicago Bears
I attend a school that wears orange helmets with its orange uniforms. It doesn’t work too well. Same thing goes for the Bears. The traditional navy helmet works so much better with any of Chicago’s jerseys, especially its orange one. This alternate helmet is a miss for one of the NFL’s most iconic teams.
12. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals messed up big time with their new helmets. Arizona plans to wear these with its color rush uniforms. The red pops out with the black real well with those, so why not do the same with the helmets? If these had a red face mask, this could’ve been one of the better helmets. But instead, they go with a bland, black design.
11. Washington Commanders
I’m glad that Washington didn’t leave the “numbers on the helmet” look behind when it rebranded. However, the execution this time around feels poor. The “W” in the front doesn’t sit well. Maybe a stripe, like the Commanders’ primary helmets, would’ve been better. This helmet isn’t bad by any means, but ten other teams did a better job than Washington.
10. Carolina Panthers
This one might have to grow on me a bit. I like the all black concept the Panthers created, but this helmet feels almost too dark. From the photos, it’s difficult to see the Panthers logo. The colors mesh well together, but nothing pops out to the eye.
9. Houston Texans
The helmet itself is one of the best that have been introduced. What’s upsetting is the Texans plan to wear these with their red uniforms, according to gridiron-uniforms.com. These would look significantly better with their blue-with-red-lettering color rush jerseys. The all-red look Houston plans to wear doesn’t sit with me well.
8. New Orleans Saints
The Saints introduced a new look this offseason, and it’s not bad. The fleur-de-lis down the middle helps this helmet represents New Orleans well, and black and gold go together like bread and butter. However, nothing about this helmet stands out; it’s a bit bland. Maybe a gold face mask would help?
7. New York Jets
Now we’re getting to the helmets I really like. The Jets’ nailed this one. New York’s black uniforms look even better with this helmet. The green on the logo and face mask (take note, Cardinals) pop out and give the uniform more vibrance.
6. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles kept their helmet change simple, and I’m all for it. They switched from an already-fresh midnight green and black look to a more fitting all black uniform. A slight change for the better.
NFL Alternate Helmets: The Top 5
5. Dallas Cowboys
The Thanksgiving uniforms worn in the late 2000s and early 2010s are iconic. Dallas finally gets the chance to bring them back this year. The simplicity of the helmet gives the Cowboys an old school look, something that somewhat resembles a cowboy. The white pops out with the rest of the uniform, and I love it.
4. New York Giants
The Giants’ white throwback uniform has been a staple amongst fans for a few years now. It’s about time they brought the blue back. The darker shade of blue on the helmet gives the uniform a more classic look. On top of that, the “GIANTS” along the side is significantly better than the block “NY”. A perfect helmet for a classic uniform.
3. New England Patriots
The Pat Patriot look is back! The red, white, and blue look has long been one of the best looks in football. The white stands out with the red jersey really well, giving New England a patriotic look. As someone who watched many Patriots games growing up, I’m so happy to see these back in action.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
Finally. Ever since the Bengals introduced their all-white uniforms, fans have been screaming for the Bengals to wear while helmets. Everyone’s wish came true, and this looks so clean. The new helmets put these uniforms in the conversation for the best in the NFL.
1. Atlanta Falcons
When the Falcons got new uniforms in 2020, I was disappointed they went with black helmets instead of red. Now you see why. The red and black look with a sliver of gold bring back ’80s nostalgia, a more authentic throwback, and one of the cleanest looks in the NFL. It’s about time Atlanta brought these back. These are, without a doubt, the best of the NFL alternate helmets
The Patriots look to double their win total vs a Texans team seeking the same outcome. After a hard-fought defeat to the Buccaneers last week, the Patriots look to take on a Texans team reeling from three straight losses, including the 40-0 smackdown against the Bills last week. It will be a battle of rookie QB’s when the two teams meet up, but how each rookie gained their starting job couldn’t be any more different.
Mac Jones beat out incumbent Cam Newton to win the starting gig coming out of training camp. Texans Rookie Davis Mills (Stanford) was picked in the third round with the Texans’ first pick of the draft to largely play backup to Tyrod Taylor. However, when Taylor injured his hamstring in week 2 against the Browns, it forced Mills into action. A week after holding a living legend to mortal numbers, the Patriots defense will again need to be active on Sunday to help the team win with a skeleton crew of a roster making the trip.
We’ll again stick with last week’s iteration of game preview, using the “who has the advantage when…” style. So, without further ado.
The Patriots Run the Ball
The Patriots are suddenly a team struggling to move the ball on the ground. Don’t expect that to change this week as the only returning starter along the offensive line is center David Andrews. The Patriots leading rusher a week ago was WR Nelson Agholor, who had a long of 4 yards. Collectively, the Pats totaled 8 carries for -1 yard on the ground.
That’s not a typo, a Bill Belichick coached had -1 rushing yard for an entire game. A week before, the Patriots had 49 yards on 17 carries. This has been a downward trend since the season opener against the Dolphins for the Pats. Behind a patchwork offensive line, the work won’t be getting any easier for the Patriots’ running backs.
The silver lining? The Texans have been extremely porous against the run, allowing an average of 137 yards per game to their opponents with an extremely generous 4.5 yards per carry average. While the Texans boast an active linebacking corps, the defensive line has been quiet through the first quarter of the NFL season. The lack of production among their down linemen has allowed the linebackers more than their fair share of chances to pad stats with tackles multiple yards downfield, which is exactly what has occurred.
Despite the Texans’ troubles defending the run, it won’t be an easy day in the office for the Patriots rushing attack. Expect this to be a difficult endeavor to get the ground game going. Damien Harris and the other Patriot’s running backs were having a difficult time executing the Patriots rushing attack behind the starting offensive line, it won’t get any easier behind the patchwork starting five against the Texans.
Advantage: Patriots (somehow)
The Patriots Pass the Ball
McDaniels embraced Mac Jones and his strengths last week against the Bucs. Facing a strong front seven but an injured secondary, the Pats spread it out, often going with three wide receiver sets. These personnel groupings not only plays to Jones’ strengths in the short to intermediate passing game, but it helps the rookie identify defensive play calls before the snap.
The Patriots would be wise to utilize this game plan again against the Texans. With Mac playing behind four new starters up front, putting him in the gun and letting him identify his mismatches before the snap will allow him to get the ball out quick and avoid getting killed. If the Patriots’ running game falters at all, expect them to replace it with a quick passing game to keep the offense in manageable situations.
The Texans’ secondary is largely comprised of “remember them” names. While they may have some notable names on their roster, the Texans’ passing defense has been middle of the pack. They have allowed an average of 260 yards passing per game but have buoyed that performance with timely takeaways and stiff red zone passing defense.
The Texans have allowed 6 passing touchdowns while collecting 5 interceptions. Safety Justin Reid leads the team with 2, while CB’s Vernon Hargreaves III and Lonnie Johnson Jr., and linebacker Christian Kirksey have one apiece.
The Texans pass rush starts with hybrid defensive end/linebacker Whitney Mercilus who has collected 3 sacks on the season. The team has a total of 7 sacks to this point in the season. Outside of Mercilus, these sacks are largely designed pressures and not one on one pass rush wins. Don’t be surprised if some of these schemes and games fool the Pats’ backup o-linemen and we see Mac on the ground more than we’d like.
It’ll all come down to protecting Mac. The Texans will know the Pats want to get the ball out of his hand quickly and would be smart to clog the underneath passing lanes. If so, Mac will need to have time to work through his progressions. If the Pats can afford him that time, then the passing offense will have success. If not, it could be a frustrating day in the office. A big game from the tight ends might be in store if the Pts can consistently get them lined up on the Texans linebackers.
The Texans Run the Ball
The Texans have been anything but a dominant rushing team this season. Paced by a veteran group (and I mean veteran with a capital V), the team has gained 332 yards on the ground. For comparison’s sake, the Pats have 274. The Texans had 48 rushing yards last week against the Bills, and it wasn’t because the game got out of hand quickly. The Texans trailed 16-0 at the half and 19-0 after three. Still, plenty of reason to stay balanced on offense.
The week before, the Texans rushed for 42 yards against the Panthers. Almost half of the Texans rushing yards (160) came in week 1 against the Jaguars. The Texans again were productive on the ground through the first half against the Browns before QB Tyrod Taylor got injured. The loss of a dynamic runner at the QB position has made the Texans run game one-dimensional.
Just as a porous Texans defense might be the medicine the Patriots rushing game needs to get back on track, facing the Patriots defense might do the same for a struggling Texans attack. The Patriots rank 20th in rush defense thus far into the season. Dont’a Hightower hasn’t been the same player since returning and was leapfrogged by Kyle Van Noy last week in playtime. The loss of Ja’Whaun Bentley hasn’t helped the Patriots rush defense either.
Bentley is questionable to play against the Texans while Jamie Collins is set to make his (third?) Patriots debut. The return of both Collins and Bentley could mean a bolstered Patriots rushing defense. At the very least, it should help keep guys fresh with a more active rotation.
A week after Belichick putting on a coaching clinic against one of the most talented offenses in the league, I have a feeling he keeps his defense on track with a resurgent effort against a struggling Texans run game. The best thing the Pats can do is overplay the run and force a rookie QB to try to beat them through the air.
For a game the features the two franchises planet-sized-defender-of-the-middle Vince Wilfork played for, it’ll be a game lacking in run defense.
The Texans Pass the Ball
Rookie Davis Mills was highly touted as a draft prospect. NFL evaluators loved his arm strength and ability to spread the ball around along with his above-average escape-ability. However, the negatives from his college tape have translated too easily to the NFL game. He frequently waited for the sure thing to be open, often leaving receivers waiting on his ball to arrive, and tended to be occasionally erratic with his accuracy.
Those negative traits are reflected in his professional stat line: 38/67 for 357 yards, 2 touchdowns against 5 interceptions while taking 8 sacks. The NFL level happens at a much faster speed than college, waiting for a sure thing to happen in the NFL is very rarely going to occur. His high sacks total in two and a half games shows he’s still waiting for his guys to break open while the interception total is reflective of his sporadic accuracy and receivers having to wait on the ball.
A week after making TB12 double clutch and doubt what he was seeing post-snap, the Pats defense should be able to tie this rookie’s brain into knots. Even with the loss of Jalen Mills (hamstring), the Patriots’ secondary should be able to scheme up confusing and effective coverages.
WR Brandin Cooks is the Texans leading receiver by a large margin (Cooks: 369 yards, next leading receiver: 73 yards) and should draw attention from CB1 J.C. Jackson or from a rat concept with slot corner Jonathan Jones and safety Devin McCourty over the top. Belichick is the king of making teams play left-handed and it’s never been so apparent as the Texans unbalanced passing game.
The Texans’ offensive line has long been an Achilles heel and continues to be despite significant investment. Patriots pass rushers Matt Judon and Josh Uche, along with rotating pieces Van Noy, Hightower, Collins, and Chase Winovich should all find success in one-on-one matchups. If the Pats can get Mills to second guess what he’s seeing and hold the ball the pass rush should have a VERY productive game.
The Patriots’ third unit finally got on track last week (outside of one Matt Slater penalty). They threw everything they had at the Bucs to try to gain an extra possession, but the Bucs handled it extremely well. I don’t think the Pats will be getting too exotic on special teams unless the game flow dictates it late in the matchup. Gunner Olszewski has had a quiet start to the season before a modest return last week, he might be due to break one. Nick Folk has been listed on the injury report since Week 2 but has yet to miss any time. He has been consistent and came ever so close to turning in a snow-bowl-esque kick last week in monsoon conditions.
Belichick showed last week he still is the best defensive mind to ever don a headset. His work this week should be quite a bit easier than going against his understudy of 20 years. However, the best don’t let up against inferior opponents. Belichick knows and embraces that aspect of the game, often showing clips of Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods during team meetings to accentuate how the best never is content with simply winning, they want to dominate and embarrass their opponents. Belichick should channel that mentality in running a second consecutive coaching clinic.
McDaniels has been on the receiving end of quite a bit of criticism. None of which has been deserved. He has quietly and steadily been focusing the game plan on Mac Jones’ strengths and will continue to set the rookie up for success. After seeing how disastrous the downfield passing game could be against the Saints, Mac was happy to stay on script against the Bucs and had the best game of his young career. Hopefully, the Pats don’t need to break out Jakobi Meyers for two pass attempts this game.
Defensive play-caller Steve Belichick has been steady as long as the cameras aren’t on him….
It’s a dome. Unless the Chargers and Raiders decide to somehow get involved and postpone it, it shouldn’t be an issue. The Texans field is a natural grass surface that has come under criticism in seasons past but thus far in the young season has been in top shape.
The Texans average 16.8 points per game, the Pats? 17.8. Seems a bit too straightforward. Mac Jones and the offense finally showed signs of progression last week in the red zone, going 2-3 but scoring points on every trip. The slow conversion of these trips into touchdowns is a welcome sign for the offense. The Patriots defense and special teams will need to help the offense in the scoring department, and I think they end up getting it done.
Mills will turn the ball over; the Pats just need to make them count. This is a game that has a distinct Patriots advantage in every aspect yet somehow feels will be ugly…or this is a game where the Pats outclass an inferior opponent despite having the odds against them and win going away.