Thanksgiving Day kicks off a triple-header with the Detroit Lions hosting the Houston Texans. Are they primed to upset the AFC powerhouse or will they come up short once again? Let's take a closer look at why I think the Texans will continue to roll.
For me this is the most interesting point spread on the board in Week 12. The look ahead line had the Texans favored by -3.5. I really wasn't expecting a -3 to be available when the lines re-opened, but that's exactly what we have (odds from SBRforum).
This line could be on the verge of moving because we now have to lay some extra juice. Texans are always a good bet at a fair number. Despite being ranked near the top all year, they are still 7-3 ATS this season.
Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
One of the things that makes the NFL so unique is the ridiculous rate of injuries that occur. What's even more interesting is how impactful these injuries are on the outcome of a game. It seems like every week people are debating how much a player is worth in the point spread, if anything at all.
In Week 11 we had guys like Big Ben/Leftwich, Vick/Foles, Cutler/Campbell, and Smith/Kaepernick to discuss. I made picks in all three of those games and went 2-1.
QB's are relatively easier to manage though. What's more challenging is what happens when the peripheral guys start dropping. What positions are the most important? How good are the replacements? This is all fun stuff for the stat-heads like myself, but the average fan could probably care less.
To simply things, the two injuries on the Texans worth noting is Joseph and Dobbins. The Texans just don't have anybody to come in and shut down the Lions passing attack if Joseph can't go. Calvin Johnson could wind up abusing this secondary if Wade Philips can't find a way to scheme him.
The Lions rushing game doesn't scare people, but they've been much more effective than people think this season. If Dobbins is out, the Lions might want to take advantage. Dobbins was doing a great job filling in for the much more important Cushing, but if both are out things could get dicey.
Detroit have injury concerns of their own. LT Backus is out which creates a whopping downgrade on Matthews blindside. This couldn't come at a worse time with the Texans coming to town. The Lions have done a good job pass protecting this season, but that could all change if they have to adjust their alignments.
Finally, Delmas has a chance to return to the Lions secondary. Given that he's the leader of the defense when he's on the field, it would be a welcomed addition. The one area where the Lions D struggles in the most is in the passing game. They tighten up inside the 20, but they give up far too many big plays up and down the field.
X's and O's: Advantage Texans
The primary reason why Houston can match-up with anybody in this league is because they are so good in every single area on the field with the exception of special teams - and even that is an area where they've been improving in.
Head to head, Houston have six clear advantages over the Lions. I've already mentioned the liabilities in the Detroit secondary. Another edge comes in turnover differential. Detroit have lost the turnover game on a consistent basis this year, while the Texans have usually come out on top in this department. Of course in one game anything can happen, but if you've been watching Houston this year you'll know this edge comes from an opportunistic group of defenders and an efficient, ball-control approach on offense.
The other four areas Houston have the upper hand in is on the defensive side. They are head and shoulders above anyone else in the NFL in third down situations and drive success rate. Much of this is thanks to how good they are defending the pass and rushing the passer, but they also force most teams into field goal tries inside the 20.
How much will Joseph and Dobbins affect these advantages? That's impossible to say, but the Lions don't bother trying to fool you with different formations and fancy sets. They simply line up and execute.
What I do know is the Texans will not be as brutal as they were last week against the Jaguars. That was a classic letdown spot after a monster win in Chicago on prime-time. The best part of that win was how the Texans responded being down 14 points in the final quarter. This isn't a team that is necessarily built to come from behind.
I expect the Lions to put up a fight on national TV, but don't lose sight of the fact that the Texans can clinch a playoff spot with a win. Detroit on the other hand, know they are done. They will also have to contend with the return of Ben Tate. No other team in the league can boast a 1-2 punch in the backfield of Foster/Tate. The Lions are 0-4 in the division this year which tells me they aren't very good in the big games. They are 1-3 ATS at home, while Houston is 3-1 ATS on the road. I think it's silly that the books are offering us -3, but I'm more than happy to take it and I don't expect it to be available on gameday.
NFL Pick: HOU -3.