Houston Texans +330 (+9) @ Kansas City Chiefs -420 (-9): Total 54.5
It’s 3rd and 7 late in the 4th quarter with the Texans driving down the field in the hopes of making it a one-score game. The Kansas City home crowd at Arrowhead Stadium is going absolutely nuts and Deshaun Watson has to resort to a silent snap count. As a result, the offensive line is late getting off on the snap, and Watson is sacked. The Chiefs get the ball back and win the game.
In a normal year, this is such a plausible outcome that none of you even thought twice about the changes to this scenario that are going to be affected when it comes to the game environment in a pandemic. Most stadiums are not allowing fans to enter, and some are doing so at a very limited capacity.
When there are no fans, the crowd noise goes away and the home-field advantage is all of a sudden extremely limited or neutralized. In this scenario, Watson no longer has to go to a silent snap count, preventing the defensive line from getting a jump on the snap. What else he can do is use hard counts to try to draw a defense offside and induce a free play. Combine these very subtle advantages that the offenses have in-game with the fact that defenses have had a limited training camp as opposed to what they are used to. This creates an overall game environment where offenses should be king.
Kansas City offense vs Houston defense
For the most part, the Texans are running out the same personnel on defense that they ran out last year. For that we can partly rely on last year’s metrics to guesstimate how this defense will perform. Houston ranked 22nd overall in defensive DVOA, 25th in DVOA against the pass and 19th in DVOA against the run in 2019 per Football Outsiders. In the same breath, they ranked 22nd in adjusted line yards allowed and 29th in adjusted sack rate. Not being able to generate pressure on the quarterback is a problem, especially when the opposing quarterback is Patrick Mahomes.
If you aren’t going to generate pressure consistently, you need to have stellar cornerback play. That is something the Texans lack as well. They saw their top corner Jonathan Joseph head to the Titans in the offseason. Gareon Conley was slated to take Joseph’s spot, but he is now on injured reserve.
The Texans brought in Vernon Hargreaves from Tampa Bay. In only nine games last year, Hargreaves allowed 47 catches on 68 targets (69% catch rate) to go for 634 yards, 4 TDs and a passer rating of 112 per Pro Football Reference. If you were to target Hargreaves consistently over the course of a full season at this production level, you would find a receiver that goes for over 1,100 yards and 7 TDs, which would correlate to top-end wide receiver production. Hargreaves is not good. He is going to line up in the slot, which the Chiefs are notable for moving all of their guys around the formation to get them in the most favorable matchups, and Hargreaves should be that matchup they seek out on Thursday.
On the outside of the secondary are returning cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Lonnie Johnson. Roby was better than Hargreaves by a decent amount, but he is still very attackable. In 10 games, Roby allowed 38 catches on 63 targets (catch rate of 60%) to go for 457 yards and 2 TDs. Decent, but not great.
In more limited action, Lonnie Johnson was also not very good last year as he allowed 35 of the 55 targets thrown his way to be caught (64% catch rate), and receivers turned those catches into 425 yards, 4 TDs and a passer rating of 112. No matter which way you slice this Texans secondary, they aren’t good and the front 7 did not generate enough of a pass rush last year to offset that.
As mentioned, the Chiefs move their top playmakers all around the formation and will look to abuse any good matchups they can get their hands on. In this case there are good matchups all around, but look for them to target their main receivers out of the slot the most. Per PFF, Tyreek Hill ran 45% of his routes from the slot, Mecole Hardman ran 37% of his routes from the slot, and Sammy Watkins ran 48% of his routes from the slot. Again, it all goes back to the Chiefs using their guys all over the formation and attacking the best matchups.
The Chiefs should also be able to move the ball targeting one of their best weapons in Travis Kelce. The Texans allowed the 11th most receiving yards to the tight end position last year, despite only allowing tight ends to catch 5 TDs. I think most of the damage the Chiefs do here comes from the wide receiver’s torching the bad cornerbacks, but the Texans don’t really have an answer for anything the Chiefs will do in the passing game.
Speaking of not being able to stop the pass game, want to take a guess which defense allowed the 3rd most receptions, 2nd most yards, and the most receiving TDs to the running back position in 2019? You guessed it, the Texans. Recently drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire (CEH) was selected for one reason: catch passes out of the backfield from Mahomes. CEH gets one of the best-receiving matchups all year as the Texans got torched by pass-catching running backs last year and the defensive personnel is very similar. I don’t see a way the Chiefs score less than 30 points here.
Houston offense vs Kansas City defense
The Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson and also traded for Brandin Cooks from the Los Angeles Rams. This is going to be a new-look offense in 2020, but one that should still have the ability to put up points in a hurry as they are led by Deshaun Watson.
In the same breath we talked about how good of a matchup it is for CEH in the passing game for the Chiefs, the same can be said for David Johnson and the Texans. The Chiefs allowed the 2nd most receptions, the most yards, and the 4th most TDs to pass-catching running backs in 2019. David Johnson is known for his pass-catching ability, and should be heavily utilized and highly efficient here.
The one spot where the Chiefs did excel on defense last year was defending the wide receiver position. So look for the Texans to funnel everything to their tight ends and running backs as much as possible. Despite teams constantly playing from behind against the Chiefs, the Chiefs allowed the 11th fewest targets to opposing wide receivers, which translated into the 2nd fewest yards and 7th fewest TDs. With a banged up Brandin Cooks and no more DeAndre Hopkins, I expect the Chiefs to be able to focus their attention on Will Fuller as well.
The Chiefs also allow teams to run the ball against them. They gave up the 5th most rush yards to opposing running backs despite playing with a lead most of the time. Again, this points to David Johnson usage. If you are going to trade a top receiver like Hopkins for DJ, you better use him in a good matchup like this. Ultimately the Texans should have some success moving the ball, but it won’t be as effortless as it will be for the Chiefs.
Pace of play
The Texans were middle of the pack in pace of play in 2019 no matter which way you slice it. In a neutral game script they ranked 14th. That jumped to 12th when they were trailing by 7+ points and dropped to 16th when they were leading by 7+ points per Football Outsiders. Regardless of the game scenario, they were about league average.
The Chiefs on the other hand are on the gas pedal until the game starts to get out of hand. In neutral game scripts, the Chiefs ranked 6th in pace of play, but that dropped all the way to 17th when they got a 7+ point lead, which we can expect at some point here. However, until they get that lead, they are going to play pretty quickly. An overall above average game speed with two good passing offenses tends to lean us in the direction of betting the over on points scored.
Game and prop bets
So after all of the analysis, the reason you’re here is to get action on the game. We talked about how the Chiefs offense should be unstoppable here, while the Texans offense should semi keep up, but may not be able to target wide receivers as much as they would normally like to. I hate betting against Deshaun Watson but this feels like a spot where the Chiefs just steamroll the Texans as they did in the playoffs to a 51-31 outcome.
- The game total feels spot on at 54.5 as I think we are looking at a 34-21 type outcome which would be 55 points.
- I do think the Chiefs will cover the spread of 9 points with that being my projected outcome, so Chiefs -9 is the bet I like on the game
Player Prop Bets:
–For player prop bets, there are a couple that stand out based on our analysis above.
- David Johnson over 2.5 receptions and over 23.5 receiving yards. Why are these set so low? He will be a focal point of the pass game.
- Pat Mahomes over 2.5 TD passes at +140 odds. Mahomes can easily throw 3+ TDs when he wants to and a porous Texans secondary is a great spot to do that.
- Tyreek Hill to score AND the Chiefs win the game at +110. We discussed how Tyreek will move all over the formation and be a problem for the Texans to cover. With Kelce possibly being limited on production, if Mahomes throws 3+ TDs, it is a near lock that Hill catches one of them and the Chiefs should win the game.
Good luck. The NFL is back!