There’s no place like home.
At least that’s the hope for the Denver Broncos after a tough Week 1 loss. And since Sunday marks the home debut of Russell Wilson, that old adage especially rings true.
Coming to town are the Houston Texans, on the heels of a season-opening tie. At DraftKings Sportsbook, the Broncos sit as a -10-point favorite.
To preview the game, we go behind enemy lines to get a feel for the Texans, the players to watch and what to expect in Sunday’s game with Scott Brazilla (Vballretired). You can find on Twitter @SBarzilla.
MHR: How are the Texans fans feeling after the season-opening tie to the Colts and what’s changed (if anything) after the game?
Barzilla: Like with most ties, I think Texans fans are torn. On the one hand, we were seven point dogs at home and we beat the Colts pretty handily through three quarters. So, there is some hope there that this team might be better than expected. However, I think there is a horrible aftertaste from that fourth quarter and overtime. I think the decision not to go for it on fourth down in overtime is looking worse and worse by the day.
The Texans are a rebuilding team (or emerging as some like to say) and those kinds of decisions can linger for a younger team. I think the fan base is pretty set into what this team is, but they showed some signs that they can compete under the right circumstances.
MHR: What’s the thinking on the Broncos and Sunday’s game after the brutal and surprising loss to the Seahawks? Does any of this give you a sense of deja vu when Peyton Manning played the Texans early in 2012? Are there any similarities?
Barzilla: Well, part of this bleeds into your third question, but it definitely raised some eyebrows. The most fascinating thing about the NFL is that the quote in quote “bad teams” are never as bad as you think. It’s not like you are playing Colorado Naval Academy or Arkansas P&Q out there. The Texans were good in 2012. This team isn’t good.
If you look at the numbers from Sunday you’ll see that the Colts held the ball nearly ten minutes longer, ran 20 more plays, and nearly doubled our total yards output. However, the Texans capitalized on some mistakes and the Broncos definitely made some mistakes on Monday night. That 2012 decision not to go with Manning (rumors were that he wanted to come to Houston) still haunts a lot of Texans fans, so we prefer to block that whole thing out.
MHR: The spread for Sunday’s game currently sits at 10 at DraftKings. What do you think of the line and how would you bet it?
Barzilla: Ten feels a little rich at this point based on the first week. I definitely think the Broncos are the better team, but this Texans team feels like one of those teams that will play a lot of close games this year. They run a fairly conservative offense and have an opportunistic defense. That combination can lead to a surprise win or two over the course of the season.
If I were a betting man I would bet on the Texans and take the ten points. I see the Broncos winning by about a touchdown in this one. Of course, if I were playing in one of those survival pools I wouldn’t take this game. The Texans have areas that can be exploited and this game could get away from them if the Broncos can exploit those weak spots.
MHR: What are your keys to the Texans getting a road win? Who are the players on both sides of the ball that Broncos Country should pay attention to?
Barzilla: Bill Belicheck has shown us that you can win a lot of games in this league just by getting out of the way and letting the other team stub their toe. The Texans will play things close to the vest and can sneak out with a win if the Broncos continue to stub their toes like they did on Monday night. Clearly, the Seahawks showed that a team with lesser talent can come out with a win in those circumstances.
On defense, the most exciting player is likely Jalen Pitre. Everyone is obviously excited by Derek Stingley Jr., but Pitre is more versatile and seems to have a nose for the football. He was the defensive player of the year in the Big 12 last year where he almost played like an extra linebacker at the safety position. He can cover too, so there are more opportunities for him to impact the game in some way.
On offense, Dameon Pierce is the guy that Texans want to see unleashed. The numbers don’t show much from Week One, but he just looks different than everyone else carrying the ball. The first guy is not bringing him down and he hits the hole with more speed and urgency than the other backs.
MHR: What are your expectations/predictions for Sunday’s game?
Barzilla: As much as I would love the Texans to come in there and sneak out with a win, I don’t see the Broncos making the same mistakes they made on Monday. In particular, the pass rush is more intense than what the Texans faced in week one from the Colts. The Texans will have to run the ball in order for the game to move along at the pace they want. They haven’t been able to do that in more than two years and I don’t think Sunday will be the day that happens.
I will go with a 27-20 Broncos win. For the Broncos, I really think their running game will be the key. The Texans are vulnerable on the defensive line and linebacking core against the run. If they can take advantage of that the running game could get really ugly really early. If not, the Texans could stay in the game and make it interesting in the end.
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