If you ask me, there's only one true quarterback battle worth watching during training camp. Cleveland Browns? Don't make me laugh. New York Jets? Another funny joke. Buffalo Bills? Gag. Some might think there's a QB battle on the Philadelphia Eagles, but it's going to be Sam Bradford's job if he stays healthy.
Thus, I'm going to be focusing on Houston's battle between Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer because this can be a very good team simply with league-average play under center. You have one of the NFL's best running backs in Arian Foster and a rising star at receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. The defense is very good, led by the best defender on the planet in J.J. Watt. And just this week, the Texans' team physician said that outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, last year's No. 1 overall pick who barely played, "looks spectacular" seven months removed from microfracture surgery. I definitely want to see him at full strength to see what he and Watt can do.
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For what it's worth, Hoyer probably wins the job, but I don't think holds it all that long. Houston was 4-4 on the road last season, 5-2-1 against the spread and 4-4 "over/under." The Texans' 2015 road schedule ranks as the eighth-easiest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2014 winning percentage of .445. That's tied for the hardest in the AFC South with Jacksonville.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds.
Sept. 20 -- at Panthers (-2.5): Houston comes off its home opener against Kansas City, while Carolina is in Jacksonville in Week 1. Watching Cam Newton and Watt collide a few times is definitely must-see TV. Probably the two most impressive physical specimens at their positions. And if you ask me, Carolina might have the second-best defensive player in the NFL in linebacker Luke Kuechly. Only Houston's second all-time trip to Charlotte, last in 2007. Texans lose this. Key trend: Texans 3-7 ATS in past 10 September road games as a dog.
Oct. 4 -- at Falcons (-1): Houston is off a home game, and presumably a win, over Tampa Bay. So it's three straight vs. the NFC South. Atlanta is in Dallas in Week 3. Only the second trip for Houston to Atlanta all-time. First overall meeting since 2011. Texans lose this. Key trend: Texans have lost four straight at NFC teams (2-2 ATS).
Oct. 18 -- at Jaguars (+3.5): Potential letdown game here as Houston is off a Thursday nighter in Week 5 at home against Indianapolis. Jacksonville is in Tampa Bay the previous Sunday. The Texans won 27-13 in north Florida last season in Week 14. Foster ran for 127 yards and a touchdown. Houston trailed 13-10 at the half but held the Jags to 4 third-quarter yards. Houston's Ryan Fitzpatrick, now with the Jets, simply managed the game, going 13-for-19 for 135 yards with no TDs or picks. Texans win this. Key trend: Texans 3-2 ATS in past five as road favorite in series.
Oct. 25 -- at Dolphins (-3): Maybe the Texans should just stay in Florida following the Jags game? Miami is off a Week 6 matchup at Tennessee. Interestingly, Houston is 7-0 all-time against the Fins, with the last win a 30-10 decision in Houston in September 2012. Texans lose this. Key trend: Texans 3-7 ATS in past 10 October road games as at least a 3-point dog.
Nov. 16 -- at Bengals (-4): Monday nighter. This follows Houston's bye week. But that won't be a huge advantage because Cincinnati is off a Thursday night home game vs. Cleveland in Week 9. Houston lost 22-13 at home to the Bengals in Week 12 last season. Houston's only touchdown came on a 60-yard interception return by Johnathan Joseph in the third quarter. Mallett made his second career start and wasn't very good, going 21-for-45 for 189 yards with a pick. Foster missed the game due to injury. Key trend: Texans 5-5 ATS in past 10 after a bye (any location).
Dec. 6 -- at Bills (-3): Houston off a home game vs. New Orleans in Week 12, while Buffalo is off a trip to Kansas City. I don't expect many points in this game. Probably fewer than Week 4 last season in Houston when the Texans won 23-17. Watt had an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown. He blocked an EJ Manuel pass, tipped it to himself and caught it with no Bills in front of him. Fitzpatrick was 25-for-37 for 268 yards, a TD and two picks. Houston rushed for just 37 yards on 23 carries. Texans win this. Key trend: Texans 4-6 ATS in past 10 at AFC East.
Dec. 20 -- at Colts (-5): Houston off a home game against New England, while Indianapolis is in Jacksonville in Week 14. Wouldn't shock me if the winner of this game takes the AFC South. Of course, Indy signed away Texans all-time leading receiver Andre Johnson this offseason. Now there's talk that Houston is looking into signing the guy Johnson replaced, Reggie Wayne. Texans lost 17-10 in Indianapolis in Week 15 last year as Indy clinched the division. The Texans didn't have an injured Johnson for the game, and Fitzpatrick let in the second quarter with a leg injury. Tom Savage replaced him and was 10-for-19 for 127 yards with a pick. Houston's only TD was a first-quarter interception return. Texans lose this. Key trend: Texans have dropped 10 straight at Indy as a dog of at least 4 points (4-5-1 ATS).
Dec. 27 -- at Titans (+2.5): Houston could be very flat here depending on what happens in Indy. Easy way to end the season, however, in visiting Tennessee and then hosting Jacksonville. The Titans are off a trip to New England in Week 15, and it's their home finale. Houston won 30-16 in Nashville in Week 8 last year to end a season-high three-game skid. Foster rushed for 151 yards and two TDs. Watt had two sacks and a forced fumble as he harassed Titans rookie QB Zach Mettenberger. Fitzpatrick threw for 227 and a score for the Texans. They win this. Key trend: Texans have been road favorite just twice vs. Titans and won/covered both.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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