How did Houston's Bill O'Brien not win last season's NFL Coach of the Year Award? O'Brien had to make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what at quarterback yet again in 2016 (like he has every season there) as the free-agent signing of former Broncos backup Brock Osweiler was a mega-bust. Osweiler was so bad that he was benched midway through the second quarter of Houston's Week 15 game vs. Jacksonville.
O'Brien turned to 2014 fourth-round Tom Savage, who couldn't even win a starting job at Rutgers, which forced him to transfer to Pitt. Savage did OK in that Jaguars game, leading a win, and was solid enough the next week against Cincinnati in leading another victory as Houston clinched the division title. I do question why O'Brien played Savage in a meaningless Week 17 game at the Titans as Savage suffered a concussion in the second quarter.
That meant it was Osweiler under center for the playoff opener, a 27-14 win over Oakland. He actually played a decent game, but the Raiders had no shot that day because they were forced to give rookie Connor Cook his first NFL start due to an injury to Derek Carr; Cook was predictably overwhelmed. Houston's season ended the next week in a 34-16 loss in New England, which would prove to be Osweiler's final game with the team. It also meant we went another year without an NFL team playing in a Super Bowl in its own stadium as Super Bowl LII was at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Still, I give O'Brien credit for getting that flawed team to nine wins and back to the playoffs - obviously it helped that Houston plays in the weak AFC South. Remember, though, that the Texans had the NFL's dominant defensive player, J.J. Watt, for only three games before his season ended.
Houston was 2-6 on the road last year (Osweiler was far worse away from home), 2-6 against the spread and 3-5 "over/under." The Texans travel to just two playoff teams in 2017: New England and Seattle, and those are back-to-back road games (not in consecutive weeks). I project a 3-5 record. Odds listed for the home team.
Sept. 14 at Bengals ( -2): First quick-turnaround Thursday night game of the year (i.e. the Chiefs-Patriots season opener isn't a short week for those teams). Houston should be 1-0 after beating Jacksonville in Week 1. Cincinnati has a tougher opener, hosting Baltimore. The Texans defeated the Bengals in Week 16 last year,12-10, with Savage under center and on a game-winning field goal by Nick Novak to clinch the AFC South. Key trend: Texans 6-4 ATS in past 10 as road dog of 2.5 points or fewer.
Sept. 24 at Patriots (-9): Nice to have extra time to prepare for another trip to Foxboro. A win here would be massive because the Texans don't leave home again for more than a month and could easily win their next three home games - Titans, Chiefs and Browns - and are early favorites in each. The Texans have lost six straight games at Gillette Stadium, dating to 2006, including that divisional playoff game in January.Key trend: Texans 2-8 SU & 5-5 ATS in past 10 as a road dog of at least 7.5 points.
Oct. 29 at Seahawks (-7.5): Houston off its bye week. It's only the Texans' second-ever trip to Seattle; they lost 42-10 back in 2005. Nice to play your final road game against a 2016 playoff foe before November even starts. Key trend: Texans have won and covered their past three after the bye (all on road).
Nov. 12 at Rams (+3): Texans off a Week 9 matchup vs. Indianapolis. This is Houston's first-ever game in Los Angeles. Watt might terrify Jared Goff so much that Goff goes into accounting. Houston lost the last meeting vs. St. Louis Rams 38-13 in 2013. Key trend: Texans 4-0 SU & ATS in past four as road favorite of at least 3 points.
Nov. 27 at Ravens (-3): Monday night, with Houston off a game vs. Arizona. The Texans' last regular-season game against the Ravens was in Week 16 of 2014, a 25-13 home victory for Houston. However, the Texans are 0-4 in Baltimore. Key trend: Texans 6-4 ATS in past 10 at AFC North.
Dec. 3 at Titans (-2.5): Short week for Houston against the team I believe will win the South this year. As noted above, the Texans had nothing to play for in Week 17 last year when they lost 24-17 in Nashville. After Savage went out, Osweiler threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a 1-yard TD on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter.Key trend: Texans 5-5 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
Dec. 17 at Jaguars (+1): Texans should be off a Week 14 home win over San Francisco. Houston won in Jacksonville 24-21 in Week 10 last year. Nine of the 15 road games against the Jags have been decided by a touchdown or less. Houston's eight road wins against Jacksonville are the most in franchise history against any team. Key trend: Texans 3-2 SU & ATS as road favorite in series.
Dec. 31 at Colts (TBA): As usual, no Week 17 lines with too many intangibles around the league that day. Houston has just two wins all-time at Indianapolis, and they have come the past two seasons. It was 22-17 in Week 14 last year. Osweiler was terrible, but Lamar Miller rushed for 107 yards and a TD, and Novak had five field goals. Key trend: Texans 4-5-1 ATS in past 10 at Indy.
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