HOUSTON TEXANS (0-0)
at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (0-0)
Kickoff: Monday, 10:20 p.m. ET
Line: Houston -3.5, Total: 43.5
The big question for part two of Monday's NFL doubleheader is how much Texans star RB Arian Foster will play versus the Chargers.
Foster, who led the NFL with 351 carries last season, was slowed with calf and back injuries throughout camp, and head coach Gary Kubiak says Foster will not get his typical workload. There’s nothing wrong with Houston’s Defensive Player of the Year, DE J.J. Watt, who hopes to wreak havoc in Mike McCoy’s first game as San Diego’s head coach. McCoy and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt will allow QB Philip Rivers to throw downfield, while hoping RB Ryan Mathews can stay healthy and keep defenses honest. The Chargers are 4-0 (SU and ATS) all-time versus the Texans, winning the most recent meeting in 2010 by a 29-23 score. This contributes to San Diego's 11-1 ATS mark (92%) at home versus AFC South division opponents. However, Houston has thrived in what projects to be close games, going a perfect 8-0 ATS over the past two seasons when the line is +3 to -3.
Can the Texans open their season with a convincing road win? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. During the 2012 campaign, the experts combined for a 52% ATS success rate in NFL Best Bets, highlighted by StatFox Brian's 60% ATS mark (36-24-2 ATS) and StatFox Dave's 53% ATS accuracy (44-41-4). StatFox Scott and StatFox Gary dominated NFL Totals, with Scott going 57% (38-29-1) and Gary cranking out a 56% clip (28-22-1) during the season, capped off by a perfect 4-0 run in the postseason.
The cornerstone of the Texans offense remains the zone-blocking running scheme. It’s a one-cut system for their backs, where RB Arian Foster thrives. This system is also conducive to Ben Tate's skills, and the team hopes he can stay healthy all year to take some more carries and ease the burden on Foster. The Texans use a conservative West Coast passing game with WR Andre Johnson almost always zeroed in with QB Matt Schaub’s first look. TE Owen Daniels still serves as the default No. 2 target with rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins stretching the field. Hopkins suffered a concussion in the preseason, but he's passed all the concussion tests and should be starting on Monday night. Houston showed a nice balance last year with 133 rushing YPG (8th in NFL) and 239 passing YPG (11th in league). Just the presence of Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt (NFL-best 20.5 sacks, 39TFL) is enough to make the Texans a strong defense (323 YPG allowed, 7th in NFL), and the addition of playmaking FS Ed Reed (9 career TD) and the healthy return of ILB Brian Cushing makes them truly elite. Reed will likely sit out Monday's game though with a hip injury, which bumps Shiloh Keo to the starting spot. Despite Reed's absence, CBs Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson are stellar shutdown corners, and versatile DB Danieal Manning should have little trouble shifting from free safety to strong safety this season. Thanks in large part to J.J. Watt's 16 pass deflections, the Texans led the NFL with a 53.0% opponents' completion rate. They also finished seventh in rushing defense (98 YPG) and tied for ninth in scoring defense (20.7 PPG allowed).
New head coach Mike McCoy and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt shouldn’t change the passing game much. QB Philip Rivers is at his best getting the ball deep up the seam to WR Malcom Floyd. Versatile WR Vincent Brown will help fill the year-long void of WR Danario Alexander (torn ACL) and TE Antonio Gates remains a big part of the offense. The perennially disappointing RB Ryan Mathews will take the bulk of the early down reps in hopes he can improve the team's paltry 91 rushing YPG last year (6th-worst in NFL). The Chargers had seven defensive touchdowns last year, but in effort to generate more pressure (two sacks or less in 11 games in 2012), DE Dwight Freeney (107.5 career sacks) was signed. Bigger numbers are also expected from third-year pro DE Corey Liuget (7 sacks). Adding shutdown CB Derek Cox and rookie LB Manti Te’o to incumbent standouts FS Eric Weddle and ILB Donald Butler makes John Pagano’s 3-4 scheme one to respect. Te'o will likely not make his NFL debut on Monday though, as he's been slowed by a foot injury. San Diego finished sixth in the league in rushing defense (96 YPG) and ninth in total defense (326 YPG) last year.