Green Bay Packers vs. Houston Texans: HOU -3
When I saw this game on the schedule before the season I didn't want anything to do with it. The primary reason is because I predicted the Packers would meet the Texans in the Super Bowl. At the same time, I also expected Green Bay to be better at this point in the season.
In the offseason, Vegas had Green Bay favored -1.5 in this game. The look-ahead line from last week shifted all the way to the Texans side, leaving them -5 favorites. Yet, after the Texans failed to cover the spread vs the Jets, money has come pouring in on the Packers. The current line sits between -3 and -3.5, which gives us the option to take the Texans at the key number of three (odds from SBRforum).
Would the Real Packers Defense Please Stand Up?
If you've followed Green Bay all year, you'll know how frustrating it's been to get a handle on their defense. Most people (myself included) expected an improvement on that side of the ball after getting everyone back healthy and adding Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy in the draft.
However, they got shredded in Week 1 against the 49ers and the proverbial red flags were raised. After that they seemed to settle down and strung together good performances vs the Bears and Seahawks in back to back games. Everything appeared to be on the right track, but Drew Brees and company made them look pedestrian. Brees does that to a lot of defenses, but the Packers defense followed it up by giving up 27 second half points against the rebuilding Colts. Alarming.
Overall, this leaves them with average stats in critical categories like drive success, third down, and red zone, but they've achieved it with very uneven performances.
Texans Offense Unstoppable?
This is a question that would seem more appropriate for the Packers, but through five games I haven't seen anybody who's been able to stop Houston's offense on a consistent basis. Most of their success comes from the schematic approach they take at the line of scrimmage. Defenses have a very difficult time reading whether or not the play will be a run or a pass after the ball is snapped. In this sense, a defense must pick their poison.
Last week we saw the Jets put their eggs in the Andre Johnson basket. They limited him to one catch, and the interception Schaub threw was a pass headed his way. That's an impressive feat, but they paid a price for it elsewhere. Arian Foster ran wild all night long and put up over 150 yards on the ground. Owen Daniels was wide open deep for a play-action touchdown.
If you've watched Houston this season, this is a theme that plays out week in and week out. Even with a formidable pass-rusher like Clay Matthews, it's going to be hard to get to Schaub on Sunday night. B.J. Raji is expected to play, but if he's not near 100%, the Texans will exploit the things up the gut.
Either way, the discipline of the Packers linebackers and safeties will be extremely tested. There's been numerous examples this year where Green Bay defenders have been caught cheating towards the line, only to get burned deep over the top. Having a savvy veteran like Charles Woodson helps, but there's only so much he can do.
Cushing a Crushing Blow?
J.J. Watt has garnered most of the national attention for the Texans defense this year (and rightly so), but one could argue that Brian Cushing was even more indespensible to this defense. His skill-set allowed Wade Phillips to do so many things against opposing offenses. Cushing had the speed to attack on the blitz and the power to take on multiple blockers as well. This kind of versatility posed unique challenges for offensive linemen. With him out, the Texans lose an element that most defenses didn't have.
The good news is this Houston defense is still stacked on all three levels. I'm not going to run down all the names, but needless to say there is more than enough talent to give offenses all they can handle. They can still rush the passer with aplomb and the secondary is easily equipped to deal with a variety of wide receiver sets. Without a doubt, the Packers will pose a serious challenge, but consider that the Texans defense is ranked near the very top in every category across the board.
That isn't what you want to hear if your name is Aaron Rodgers. He might be the best in the game, but without a solid offensive line, this kind of match-up could prove too much. He'll have to overcome it without Cedric Benson, and it doesn't help that Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings are banged up either.
I really like Green Bay. I think they'll get better as the season unfolds, but this is not a good spot for them. Houston is number one on my power rankings and anytime I have the option to take them as field goal favorites at home in prime-time, I'll take it. Yes, they'll be playing on a short work week, but they are too balanced and too consistent throughout the roster.
NFL Pick: HOU -3.