Game: New York Jets (9-7 last season) at Houston Texans (8-8 last season)
Spread: Texans -4.5
Overview: Patience might be the central theme of this Week 1 contest. One club, the Houston Texans, is running out of it, while the other, the New York Jets, might have to exercise some as a rebuilding team.
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Although the Texans have improved under the watch of coach Gary Kubiak, he has failed to bring them a playoff berth, let alone a winning season, in his three years at the helm. They had to win five of their last six last season to salvage an 8-8 mark. Speculation in the local media suggests Kubiak will have to lead the team to a postseason berth this year in order to be invited back for a fifth year.
This doesn’t appear to be asking too much. Talent-wise, this appears to be a club capable of much better than an 8-8 mark. At times, the Texans play like a playoff-caliber club; other times, they are maddeningly inconsistent and look like an expansion franchise still trying to find its way.
The health of quarterback Matt Schaub will be a key. The injury-prone signal-caller injured his ankle while making a seemingly harmless run out of bounds in the preseason against the Minnesota Vikings. Schaub has to stay on the field for Houston’s play-action passing game to be effective.
If he does, Houston has more than enough weapons around him. Running back Steve Slaton is turning into a star and looking like the steal of last year’s draft, while Andre Johnson is regarded as an elite NFL wide receiver.
Houston must improve a defense that ranked No. 23 last year at 24.6 points per game allowed. It also has solid personnel on this side of the ball, with former No. 1 overall draft pick Mario Williams emerging as a stalwart defensive end, and linebacker DeMeco Ryans is turning into of the league’s better and most underrated linebackers.
The Jets, on the other hand, might be in rebuilding mode after the Brett Favre experiment didn’t work and former coach Eric Mangini was sent packing at the end of last season.
They will send a rookie behind center in Mark Sanchez and a rookie head coach in Rex Ryan to the sidelines. Although the rookie coach-quarterback combination worked twice last year with the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens, there’s a decent chance Sanchez and Ryan might both struggle amid the bright lights and intense media pressure of New York.
Sanchez has less college experience and a weaker running game than Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco enjoyed last year.
Teams are likely to stack the line of scrimmage against the Jets and force Sanchez to beat them. It says here the rookie quarterback won’t be able to do it, at least not right away.
Ryan is a good enough defensive mind, and the Jets have good enough personnel on that side of the ball, that New York’s defense likely will keep most games competitive, and there’s a chance this one could be close if the Jets can force a couple of turnovers and establish a running game.
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However, don’t be surprised if Sanchez has a rough debut and commits a couple of turnovers of his own. If Schaub and the Texans can cash in, bettors will be cashing at the cage.
Trends: The Jets are 6-1 ATS in their last seven as a road underdog; the Texans are 6-1 ATS overall in their past seven.
Pick: Texans -4.5.