The Texans might be the NFL's most popular team this preseason simply because they are featured on HBO's "Hard Knocks" series. Houston concludes its home exhibition schedule Saturday against Denver as a 2.5-point favorite with a total of 41.
Texans' QB Battle Continues
The Houston Texans opened the preseason with a 23-10 win over visiting San Diego last Saturday. The big story with this team is who will start at quarterback between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. Hoyer got the start vs. the Niners and threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts III as well as a 2-point conversion pass to DeAndre Hopkins. That was the end of his night and he finished 2-for-4 for 67 yards with a rating of 135.4. Mallett completed his first eight passes and was 10-of-11 for 90 yards but didn't have any scoring drives. He finished with a rating of 100.8. To be fair, Houston did have seven tries (thanks to a penalty) inside the 49ers' 2 yard-line at one point in the first quarter but couldn't punch it in.
Mallett will start against Denver so clearly Coach Bill O'Brien hasn't picked his Week 1 starter yet and says he has no timetable to do so. But generally the guy who starts the third preseason game is the full-time starter so Saturday is very important.
The other position to watch is running back and who will step up as the No. 1 guy with Arian Foster likely to miss the first half of the season following groin surgery. Alfred Blue is the expected guy and he did nothing to change things against San Francisco, rushing for 59 yards on nine attempts, including a 32-yarder.
You won't see 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney on Saturday. The outside linebacker did return to practice this week for the first time since undergoing microfracture surgery in January. Clowney barely played in 2014 because he also had meniscus surgery after hurting his knee in the season opener. Clowney isn't even a lock to be ready for Week 1 yet. We also may not see Texans superstar defensive end J.J. Watt. He didn't play last week and there's really no reason to risk it. In 2013, he played two snaps all preseason. In 2014, Watt played 19 preseason snaps, skipping the second and fourth preseason games entirely.
Manning To Make Debut
Denver opened the preseason with a 22-20 win in Seattle. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler, who wasn't a lock to make the roster, looked sharp by going 15-for-20 for 151 yards and a touchdown, leading scoring drives on all five of his first-half possessions. The Seattle starting defense barely played, however.
Peyton Manning sat that game out but will start Saturday as we see how different the Denver Broncos offense might look under new head coach Gary Kubiak, who is installing a West Coast scheme. Of course Kubiak is the former head coach of the Texans, fired during the 2013 season. He was replaced on an interim basis then by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who is now Denver's DC.
"He's going to play. ... I'll say he's going to play quite a bit," Kubiak said of Manning. "I'd like our 1s to play quite a bit. Is that a quarter? A quarter and a half? Is that a half? I don't know, I'll see how the game goes"
The last time Manning played in Houston, on Dec. 22, 2013, he made NFL history as he set the league record for touchdown passes, breaking Tom Brady’s record of 50 set in 2007. Manning threw four that day to get to 51, with the record TD going to Julius Thomas, who is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Manning would add four more in the regular-season finale to set the mark at 55.
Top wide receiver Demaryius Thomas also will make his preseason debut on Saturday. He recently signed a five-year, $70 million extension. However, fellow starting receiver Emmanuel Sanders will not play. He's dealing with a hamstring injury. Cody Latimer will play with the starters in Sanders’ spot. Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who had offseason foot surgery, will make his preseason debut on Saturday.
NFL Free Picks: If there's any logic to picking preseason games, it's go with the team it matters most to. And clearly this matters to Hoyer and Mallett so they will be going 100 percent. That's enough for me. Take Houston -2.5 and 'Over' 41 with your NFL picks at BetOnline.