There are a fair number of people who think the Houston Texans might be able to make a major move toward the Super Bowl. Then again, there are others who will always remain skeptical until they actually do it. On Monday night they will visit the west coast as they take on the San Diego Chargers, who are under new leadership, in the back end of an NFL doubleheader on ESPN, set to kick off at 10:20 PM ET at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
In the NFL betting odds that have been established on this game by the folks at Bovada.com, the Texans are laying some points on the road:
Houston Texans -5
San Diego Chargers +5
Over 45 Points -110
Under 45 Points -110
San Diego’s ownership had simply lost patience with Norv Turner, who, truth be told, was never a big winner in any of his tenures as a head man. The Chargers had fired Marty Schottenheimer, who was a very successful head coach, because general manager AJ Smith didn’t like the fact that he wanted to hire his son as one of his coordinators. Smith is gone now too.
In Turner’s place is Mike McCoy, who was the offensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos,. where he helped to design a different offense for Tim Tebow, then welcomed Peyton Manning. Now he has another challenging assignment on his hands, which is help Philip Rivers become a quarterback who can take the Chargers (+190 to win this game at Bovada) to a new level. His 15 interceptions last year didn’t advance things very much in San Diego, and McCoy would like to get him back to a point where he was known for cool accuracy.
The receiving corps has something to do with it. Of course, Antonio Gates is still around at tight end, and Malcom Floyd, after a training camp scare, will be making the start at one wide receiver spot. Eddie Royal is also available, but Danario Alexander is not, because the former University of Missouri star was lost for the season during camp. Rivers will find that he has a dependable outlet in Danny Woodhead, who can come out of the backfield on short routes. But the Chargers will be looking for something extra out of Ryan Matthews, who ran for 707 yards but only 3.8 per carry.
Will the offensive line protect Rivers? That’s a good question, because he was sacked 49 times last year. This offensive line is a work in progress, and they drafted D.J. Fluker in the first round out of Alabama to handle the right tackle position. King Dunlap is on the other side and will have to deal with Houston’s J.J. Watt most of the time.
Watt is the star of a Houston defense that has turned the fortunes of the Texans (-230 in the NFL betting at Bovada.com) around. He had 20.5 sacks to lead the league and was named the offensive player of the year. The defense is led by coordinator Wade Phillips, who has a load of talent to use. One of the people they are looking forward to having back is Brian Cushing, an All-Pro who missed last season. And Phillips is also hoping to get a breakout season out of Whitney Mercilus, a second-year linebacker who can pick up the slack from the loss of Connor Barwin. Ed Reed will not be available for this game, as he is still recovering from a hip operation, but he’ll be back soon.
Houston’s offense is balanced, and there could be even more of that this season. Matt Schaub has taken a lot of criticism for his inability to get this team to the Super Bowl, but he threw for over 4000 yards last season and is Pro Bowl-caliber when healthy. Arian Foster, who has a calf injury, will play in this game, but the coaching staff will keep a close eye on him and probably give Ben Tate more than his fair share of carries.
The Texans looked dominant for a while last year; they won eleven of their first 12 games, but lost three of their last four in the regular season, then after beating the Bengals in the playoffs, lost to New England.
What is different this year, and what should be significant to NFL bettors, is that the Texans may have an impact newcomer at wide receiver. They already have Andre Johnson, who caught 112 passes for 1598 yards in 2012, and there is the very capable tight end, Owen Daniels. But the arrival of DeAndre Hopkins, a first-round draft pick out of Clemson, has caused an awful lot of excitement. Hopkins has been cleared to play in this game after passing a concussion test (having suffered one against the Dolphins in the pre-season). What Houston has needed was someone who could take the pressure off Johnson, and Hopkins may just be the answer for that.
San Diego is going to try to disrupt some of that with an improved pass rush. Well, we don’t know if it is going to be improved unless Dwight Freeney comes up big. Freeney, a renowned sack master, had only five for the Colts last year, so McCoy is obviously looking for a comeback season out of him. And he might get some support from linebacker Melvin Ingram, who was a first-round draft choice last year.