Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, September 21, 2016 at 11:59 AM
It's amazing what a couple of home wins will do for your standing in the betting market. The Houston Texans opened the season as a 60-1 longshot to win the Super Bowl and at a decent 12-5 price to win an awful AFC South. Victories over the Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs have drastically changed the betting landscape on the Texans.
Houston is now 18-1 to win the Super Bowl, trailing only New England, Pittsburgh and Denver in the AFC. The Texans are now a decisive 5-8 favorite to win the South. The wins over the Bears and Chiefs were nice and both were ATS covers. But as Houston gets set to visit New England on Thursday night (8:25 PM ET, CBS), should we really be ready to elevate the Texans onto the top tier of AFC contenders?
Here's what Houston has going for them. Lamar Miller has done everything the organization hoped he would for the rushing attack, averaging over 90 yards a game. Will Fuller has stepped up on the outside - the rookie receiver has caught nine balls the first two weeks and is averaging over 23 yards a pop.
There were questions about how quickly Fuller would be NFL-ready. If this is any indication, he can be a great deep target for the strong-armed Brock Osweiler and not allow defenses to key on DeAndre Hopkins. Fuller is also a great option on a play-action attack built off Miller's strong running.
The defense that is Houston's calling card has been up to snuff. They're third in the league in points allowed. Jadeveon Clowney is, at long last, looking like the player we saw in college at South Carolina. Whitney Mercilus is playing excellent football at outside linebacker.
And the best news is this - J.J. Watt has been nowhere close to his usual form. After wrist surgery this summer, Watt is back in the lineup, but still clearly playing his way back into shape. If we make the safe presumption that he eventually plays at his usual Defensive Player of the Year level, the excellence of Houston's defense could soar off the charts.
The bad news starts with the offensive line. While right tackle Derek Newton is a stud, the entire left side has been a train wreck in the early going. Osweiler's production has been mediocre at best. The 60 percent completion rate and 7.3 yards-per-attempt are nothing special and can't cover for what's still an alarming tendency to be careless with the football.
The 3/3 TD-INT ratio is bad on its face. It gets worse when you consider that Osweiler has been intercepted on 4.4% of his passes, a figure that ranks 29th among the 33 quarterbacks with enough throws to qualify. Given that this was a problem for him in Denver there's no reason to assume it's a fluke.
There are plenty of reasons to like Houston, but given where the market is going, the timing doesn't seem to be right. They went 8-8 a year ago and a couple home wins aren't enough to justify making them a better bet than Cincinnati or Kansas City in the AFC (even with the head-to-head result the Chiefs still have coach and quarterback with a significantly better track record). You can even argue that the Texans aren't as safe a bet as 2-0 Baltimore, who had a hiccup last year, but otherwise spent seven seasons as model of consistency.
What happens Thursday Night in Foxboro is an entirely separate question. That decision gets made by the unique variables of that particular matchup. Nothing here should be taken as an indication that we're going against the Texans on Thursday Night. That's a decision that will be made much closer to kickoff. It is fair to say that when it comes to overarching question of Super Bowl contention that the market might be getting ahead of itself regarding Houston.