NFL Handicapping: Disappointing Falcons and Texans
by Trevor Whenham - 10/17/2013
The two most disappointing teams in the NFL through six weeks have unquestionably been the Falcons and the Texans. Some would argue that the Giants deserve to be in this group as well. The difference, though, is that Atlanta and Houston were both supposed to be among the two or three top teams in their conference, while the Giants were, at best, a fringe contender. The Giants are the worst of the three teams, but the Falcons and Texans have fallen further.
While neither the Falcons nor the Texans stand any chance of winning the Super Bowl, the question for bettors is whether they are capable of turning things around and getting back on track to some extent — creating value for bettors at the same time. Here’s a look at which teams have the edge in the race back to mediocrity:
The Falcons get the nod in a big way here. Matt Ryan has had some issues in clutch time and clearly hasn’t done enough to help this team win consistently. Overall, though, he has been solid. His QB rating (a flawed stat, but just a benchmark) is actually higher this year than ever before in his career, and so is his completion percentage. He needs to get mentally tougher, but he has been far from a disaster. Matt Schaub, on the other hand, has just been lousy. He is posting career lows in rating and the critical measure of yards per attempt. He has more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (eight), and he has elevated throwing pick-sixes to an art form. Most significantly, he has clearly lost the support of his fanbase, and he seems to have lost the backing of the team to an extent as well. Players have gone to great lengths to spin their response to the question of whether they support Schaub. I have little doubt that Ryan can operate on a level needed to win — though I don’t believe he will ever be tough enough to win consistently when it really matters. At this point, though, the future for Schaub is far less certain. If Schaub does get yanked, or if his injury proves to be a real factor, then things are hardly rosy for the team. Yates has been fine in relief at times but is far from a star.
The Texans actually sit seventh in the league in total yards per game and sixth in rushing yards. In other words, their offense isn’t universally lousy — they just can’t convert yardage into points. You can’t win if you can’t score, and right now the Texans are more than a touchdown behind where they need to be with 17.7 points per game. Doing a much better job of protecting the ball would go a long way to addressing those issues — only the Giants have turned the ball over more, and we can see how well that is working for them. Atlanta is scoring 24.4 points per game, so they are better on the surface. Their big issue is exactly what we thought it would be, though — they still can’t run the ball despite offseason investment on that front. They sit just 26th in the league in rushing yards per game, and that makes their offense far too predictable. To make matters worse, they can’t even rely on the explosive Julio Jones the rest of the way as he is out for the season. Neither team is in a good place, but if we were starting from scratch today, I actually have quite a bit more faith in the Texans offensively than the Falcons the rest of the way.
Houston has three takeaways this year. Atlanta has four. By contrast, the upstart Chiefs lead the way with 18. Takeaways by themselves aren’t necessarily a measure of anything, because luck is involved to an extent. When teams are underperforming this starkly, though, it is worthy of concern. There are more reasons for concern as well. Atlanta is 25th in points allowed, and Houston is 28th. Atlanta is second worst in the league in number of sacks. Houston is significantly better on that front, but they failed to get to Sam Bradford at all last time out. In short, neither of these teams is executing nearly to the level that they should. When you look at the teams on paper, it is easier to have faith in the Texans going forward than Atlanta, but a defensive turnaround is far from certain for either squad.
Neither team has a whole lot to complain about here — at least in relative terms. They both have some very winnable road games — Arizona, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Buffalo for the Falcons, and Arizona, Jacksonville and Tennessee for Houston. Houston has the edge, though, with five home games remaining, two games against the Jags, and a division that is at least potentially winnable since Houston sits just two games back of the Colts. The Saints have essentially clinched the NFC South already, and there is almost no way Atlanta could catch them.
The Bottom line
If these teams were stocks, I wouldn’t be in a real hurry to buy either of them. Of the two, though, I am actually more bullish — at least from a betting perspective — on the Texans. Their talent level should be better, their QB situation is far from good but isn’t as bad as people might think, and their schedule is more manageable. The public has also enthusiastically jumped off their bandwagon as well. I don’t like their mindset right now at all, but I think the Falcons are soft overall, and I had doubts even if they were at their best that they could be competitive. There is at least a chance that Houston could deliver some nice value in coming weeks.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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