Has anything really changed in 2013? Just like last year, the NFL regular season will grace us with a Monday Night Football doubleheader in Week 1. And just like last year, the San Diego Chargers will be playing in the nightcap (10:25 p.m. ET, ESPN). But this time, the Chargers will be the home team as they welcome the Houston Texans to the O.co Coliseum.
San Diego will also be the underdog to kick off the 2013 campaign. NFL betting lines at press time have the Chargers getting as many as four points against the Texans, and our early consensus numbers show 66 percent of bettors on Houston's side. Hard to blame them given San Diego’s recent troubles. But don’t they know the Texans were a better team in 2011 than they were in 2012? Mind your sports picks in this game!
Numbers Never Lie
You won’t see that reflected in the standings, mind you. Last year, the Texans improved from 10-6 (9-5-2 ATS) to 12-4 (9-7 ATS), earning them yet another AFC South title and another Wild Card victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. But dig deep, peel back the layers, and you’ll see that Houston wasn’t quite all that.
Thanks to the stat geeks at Football Outsiders, we can see through the standings. In 2011, Houston posted a point differential of plus-103, good enough for 10.9 Pythagorean Wins, 10.0 Estimated Wins and No. 5 overall on the efficiency charts. In 2012, the Texans fell to plus-85 on the point differential, landing at 10.2 Pythagorean Wins, 8.3 Estimated Wins and No. 11 in efficiency.
Then again, the Texans probably would have done better rather than worse in 2012, had they not lost their Most Valuable Player. LB Brian Cushing went down in Week 5 with a torn ACL and didn’t play another down all season; Houston was 4-0 SU and ATS up to that point.
We didn’t hear much about Cushing’s absence last year, mostly due to the presence of a certain Mr. Justin James Watt. The sophomore DE made a quantum leap in 2012, recording 20.5 sacks and earning Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press. Even without Cushing, Houston had the league’s No. 3-ranked defense in terms of efficiency.
Cushing (knee) and Watt (elbow) are both ready for Week 1, if a little bit sore. They’ll be missing RE Antonio Smith on Monday night because of a suspension, but there’s enough depth on this line to fill the hole. Houston’s concerns at the moment are more on offense, where RB Arian Foster (back) is fresh of the PUP list and isn’t expected to carry a full workload against the Chargers.
Get the Spatula
Philip Rivers does not want you to feel sorry for him. But let’s give the guy a break. His 2012 season was eminently forgettable, especially those 49 sacks for an NFL-worst 311 yards. That snapped a streak of three straight Pro Bowl visits. At age 31, Rivers may never see Honolulu again. He might not even make it out of San Diego this week.
But there is some good news for San Diego fans: Mike Harris will not be starting at left tackle. After failing to protect Rivers’ blind side, Harris is now backing up first-round pick D.J. Fluker at right tackle, while veteran King Dunlap will man the left side. Dunlap didn’t exactly distinguish himself as part of the awful Philadelphia Eagles offensive line in 2012, but at least he isn’t Mike Harris.
This would normally be a good spot to pound that Week 1 NFL betting trend and take the non-playoff Chargers against the playoff Texans. However, the mismatch between Houston’s defensive line and San Diego’s offensive line makes me want to go in the other direction and take Houston minus the points for my NFL picks.
NFL Pick: Take the Texans –3.5 (–105) at 5DimesJoin the discussion on NFL Opening Week at SBRForum's football message boards!