(LeSean McCoy photo courtesy Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)
This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.
Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.
When and Where: Sunday, Oct. 13, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo., 1 p.m. EDT.
No longer among the unbeatens in the NFL and showing a surprising amount of mortality in the last two games, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs face a strong challenge in righting themselves Sunday when they host Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans.
Mahomes’ numbers have been stellar — he leads the NFL with 1,831 passing yards and is tied for second with 11 TD passes, but the latter number is a concern considering he has added just one to that tally in the past two games. Indianapolis put together the rare combination of being able to create pressure with four rushers while successfully using man coverage to deal the Chiefs (4-1) a 19-13 loss in Kansas City on Sunday night.
The loss caught the attention of oddsmakers, who installed the Chiefs as only 5-point favorites for this game after they were favored by 11 against the Colts.
Houston, meanwhile, is tied with Indianapolis atop the AFC South after hammering the Atlanta Falcons 53-32 last Sunday. Watson had the best game of his three-year career, throwing for a personal-best 426 yards while matching a career-high with five touchdown passes.
The Texans finished with 592 yards — the second-highest total in franchise history — going 10 for 13 on third downs while averaging 8.8 yards per play. The win also featured the coming out return of Will Fuller, who doubled his reception total and more than doubled his yardage total on the season after totaling 14 catches for 217 yards and three scores — all career highs.
Fuller was limited to eight games last season due to a torn ACL but has re-emerged as the No. 2 receiver the Texans hoped to complement DeAndre Hopkins, who chipped in seven receptions for 88 yards.
Texans in Review
Watson is taking a back seat to no one in the early going and tracking to post career highs in all three primary categories of yards, touchdown passes and completion percentage. His decision-making also has been outstanding with 11 TD passes to just one interception in 159 attempts.
An underrated yet important aspect of last Sunday’s victory was Watson not being sacked for just the second time in 28 starts since entering the league. He had been dropped 18 times in the first four games, and Houston is 8-7 when Watson absorbs four or more sacks compared to 9-4 with three or fewer takedowns.
Chiefs in Review
Mahomes has thrown for 315 or more yards in all five games, but being without injured playmaking receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins proved difficult to overcome against Indianapolis. The third-year quarterback also aggravated an ankle injury in the first half and again in the second, limiting some of his underrated mobility.
Mahomes has yet to throw an interception in 195 attempts, but the four sacks more than doubled his total on the season. His 56.4 completion percentage versus the Colts was the second-lowest of his career, and he shouldered much of the blame for an inability to connect with tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, who combined for seven catches and 101 yards but were also targeted 16 times between them.
“I feel like there was times where there were guys open in the man coverage and I was missing them,” Mahomes told NFL.com. “Whenever you’re in a close-fought game, you can’t miss a touchdown to D-Rob, you can’t miss Travis when you’re backed up and you’re trying to get out of your end zone. There’s opportunities that were missed in that game that we have to take advantage of.”
Texans run offense vs. Chiefs run defense
Ex-Chief Carlos Hyde might not be the most effective running back in the NFL, but with Texans coach Bill O’Brien one of the most firmly committed to the running game, he will get his share of carries and yards nearly every week.
The question then becomes, when will O’Brien start giving Duke Johnson more touches? Acquired in the preseason from Cleveland, the fifth-year back has offered the Texans a good change-of-pace option in the backfield and is averaging better than six yards per carry.
Both running backs have consistently gotten holes to run through as the offensive line has settled in following the late preseason arrival of left tackle Laremy Tunsil from the Miami Dolphins. Houston has racked up 302 rushing yards in the last two games while averaging 5.39 per carry.
“We opened up a lot of windows for passing game and the running game was executing,” Tunsil told the Texans’ official website. “Big shoutout to the running backs who were doing their job also. We were doing our job also. It takes 11 guys to do their job.”
Much like last season, the Chiefs are struggling to contain opposing rushers. They were gashed for 180 yards by Indianapolis last Sunday night, and teams are sticking to the run once they find success — with the bonus of keeping Mahomes and the offense off the field.
Kansas City’s last three opponents have run the ball at least 32 times, totaling 569 yards on 5.08 yards per carry and have broken off 15 runs of 10 or more yards. As defensive end Frank Clark succinctly put it to The Associated Press:
“You don’t need a large playbook to convert third-and-1.”
The problems have been most glaring on first down, where the Chiefs have yielded 6.3 yards on 67 carries on first down between 8 to 10 yards. They have failed to record a tackle for loss on any of those plays and given up 10 plays of 10 or more yards.
Texans pass offense vs Chiefs pass defense
Everyone knows about “D-Hop,” and Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the NFL. Watson will probably look his way at least 10 times in this game, and Hopkins has a penchant for inflicting damage on the road — he has averaged 7.5 catches and 102 yards while recording nine touchdown catches in his last 10 road games.
But what opponents are starting to figure out is they cannot key on Hopkins with Fuller 100 percent healthy and Kenny Stills offering another viable option on three-receiver sets. Still is still acclimating to the offense, but he has been effective in his small usage size. Nine of his 11 receptions have gone for first downs and he is averaging 12.9 yards at the point of the catch.
“Playing with Hop, like I always say, is easy,” Fuller said. “He gets a lot of coverages thrown his way. And I feel like that’s why they brought me here, to help him out. And it took me a while, but I finally had this big game. Just trying to help my dog out.”
If Tunsil and the offensive line keep Watson upright, there is little stopping Houston’s offense. In the two games he has not been sacked, he has thrown 10 touchdown passes in just 53 attempts. The win over the Falcons showed his continued maturity against the blitz, and he is now 30 for 44 for 287 yards and a pair of scores without an interception in such instances.
The Chiefs pass defense has not been all that bad, but at the same time, it does not get challenged all that much given the success opponents have running the ball. They have held three of their five opponents under 6.5 yards per pass attempt and allowed just 11 receptions to wide receivers and tight ends against the Colts last Sunday night.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu should be the center of attention leading up to this game for the Chiefs after spending last season with the Texans, where he had 70 tackles, three sacks, and a pair of interceptions. The interception was the first tangible return on the 3-year, $42 million deal he signed with the Chiefs in the offseason, but Reid has also been pleased with what he brings to the locker room off the field.
“Like he was with you guys, he’s a real good leader and loves to play the game, so he brings a certain energy every day,” Reid told the Houston media on a conference call Wednesday. “They’re just getting a feel of this defense. You saw that with Tyrann last week with the interception.”
Chiefs run offense vs. Texans run defense
The Chiefs have two distinctive running backs in McCoy and Damien Williams, but the issue at the moment is the health of the offense line. Left tackle Eric Fisher remains sidelined after undergoing sports hernia surgery last month and left guard Andrew Wylie is questionable after spraining his left ankle Sunday night.
Kansas City addressed the depth concerns created by those injuries with Wednesday’s signing of veteran offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, who spent the previous three seasons with Philadelphia and started 101 of 123 games over eight seasons with Oakland and Jacksonville in addition to the Eagles.
Not being able to run to one side of the field consistently does hamstring what an offense can do in terms of play-calling, and the knock-on effect of playing without your top wide receivers also factors into the running game’s lack of effectiveness. The loss to Indianapolis feels more like a convergence of multiple factors as opposed to a direct ineffectiveness of the Chiefs’ ground game.
Williams should be primed for a better effort after making his return following a two-game absence due to a knee injury with another full week of practice.
The Texans had one of the best run defenses in the NFL last year, ranking third with 82.7 yards per game allowed and a league-best 3.44 yards per carry. This season has seen them take a step back in both categories, yielding 95 yards per game on 4.4 per rush.
A good portion of those yards (148) came in their season-opening loss to New Orleans, and Houston has held three straight opponents under 100 after limiting the Falcons to 53. Some of the success comes from playing with the lead and forcing opponents to the air, but a good portion of it comes from the unheralded work around J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
“On a team, you have a part and if you can complete your part and be the part that you need to be on the team, you can propel the team in a positive direction.” Angelo Blackson told ESPN. “That’s all it is, the attitude of, ‘I’m going to do my job and make it so J.J. [Watt] and Whit [Whitney Mercilus] and them guys can do their job.’”
Chiefs pass offense vs. Texans pass defense
He may be too proud to admit it affected him, but Mahomes was clearly not as effective — by his standards — after aggravating his injury. But let’s also be clear, there are few — if any — quarterbacks who could throw for over 300 yards without their top two receivers.
But then again, when you have these skills, you may be the only player capable of throwing for 300 yards without your top two receivers.
An underrated portion of Mahomes’ rapid maturation was evident post-game when he put it upon himself to be better after missing connections with Kelce and Robinson. Mahomes recognized that opposing defenses will be playing man on his receivers until he figures out a way to beat that system.
But it will go beyond him and the howitzer disguised as a right arm. The offensive line has to be better and the run game has to be better. Those interconnections are paramount in making defenses be reactive rather than proactive, especially with Reid’s misdirection plays that create opportunities in space for chunk plays.
The bigger issue for Mahomes will be trying to keep an eye out for J.J. Watt and has four sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 14 pressures (per Pro Football Reference).
“You definitely have to [be aware where Watt is]. He’s a guy that’s had success in this league for a long time and he knows how to get to the quarterback,” Mahomes said Wednesday to Kansas City reporters. “As far as power and speed or whatever it is, he can really do it all. He’s a very intelligent player as well.”
In the final injury report Friday, Watkins was listed as doubtful while Hill is questionable. Reid, however, said Hill’s status will be a game-time decision, which is understandable considering no one really knows how Hill will respond to contact.
Houston’s success in pass defense boils down to whether Watt and Mercilus can get to the quarterback. The pair have combined for 9.5 of the team’s 15 sacks, and they get big sacks — the combined yardage lost on their takedowns is 73.5 yards.
“He’s a great player,” Watt told TexansWire about Mahomes. “He can move around, he can make plays on the run, he can make plays looking one way, looking the other way, not looking, looking backwards. He can do everything. He’s a phenomenal player.”
Mahomes was cognizant and complimentary of the Texans’ pass rush, noting, “They have a couple guys on the D-line like that so we have to make sure that we have a good game plan going in and knowing I need to be on top of my throws and take what’s there and not necessarily hold onto the ball extra long and put our team in a bad position.”
The secondary could catch a break if both Watkins and Hill are absent together for a second straight game, which puts the onus on safety Justin Reid to prevent tight end Travis Kelce from getting loose on seam routes. Kelce, who got into a heated argument with offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy during Sunday’s loss, has been targeted at least eight times in each game.
Special Teams and Other Things
Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn had a mixed performance last week in the sense he missed 2 of 7 extra points without it coming back to haunt the Texans, and he also made both his field goal attempts — including his first 50-yarder of the season.
Fairbairn is 5 of 7 on field goals and 14 of 17 on PATs after missing seven kicks on 83 combined attempts in 2018. Since returning to the team in Week 3, punter Bryan Anger has averaged 47.2 yards, but more importantly has put six of his 10 kicks inside the opposing 20. Predecessor Trevor Daniel did that just twice in his 11 punts, prompting the re-signing of Anger when he became available.
The Texans appear to be hitting on all cylinders entering this game, though it must be said that playing a Falcons team completely out of sorts helped. This will be a good measuring stick for Houston, which should be the favorite in the AFC South but has yet to create any separation.
Harrison Butker shook off his lone field goal miss of the season in Week 4 to knock a pair of field goals and an extra point through against the Colts and is a combined 26 of 28 on kicks. Kansas City has done well giving him chances to succeed on field goals — Butker’s long is 46 yards and he has not tried one from beyond 50.
Teams have totaled just nine punt return yards on Dustin Colquitt’s 14 efforts, though he has recorded two touchbacks against putting five punts inside the opposing 20.
With the Chiefs dealing with so many injuries across their offense, this will be a challenge to Reid’s scheming as well as the need to get the players behind a common cause. Mahomes faced barely any adversity last year in terms of producing results, and this is the first time teams have significantly slowed him down in back-to-back games, yardage aside. Reid may need to coach him up a little bit while figuring out how to make things work.
ONTO THE PICKS!
This is a challenging game to pick because while there is plenty of confidence in Mahomes being able to overcome adversity, the amount presented in this game — especially if both Hill and Watkins are absent — might be too much for even him.
The line has started to move towards the Texans, with the Chiefs now 4-point favorites. Houston’s stubborn committment to the ground game may prove beneficial in taking the Texans and the points while providing a lean to the under, which is also moving downward. Even with a low-side hook on a TD total (55.5), the lack of game-breaking options for Mahomes at wide receiver in addition to McCoy still needing to do things to be on the field gives this game the look in which both teams score 20 while only one gets near or to 30.
And that team is the Houston Texans.
Side Prediction/Full Game: Texans +4 (-110) — 3/5
Total Prediction/Full Game: UNDER 55.5 points (-115) — 3/5
Taking the under against two elite quarterbacks is a risk, but if one of them could be without his top two vertical playmakers, it is sometimes a risk worth taking. There is also the matter of believing the Texans can run the ball on the Chiefs defense, which is absolutely possible given what Indianapolis did last weekend. Being below that flat touchdown total makes this difficult, but it is a scenario that can play out.
Prop Prediction 1/Full Game: Texans +10.5/UNDER 61.5 points teaser (-110) — 5/5
Prop Prediction 2/Full Game: DeAndre Hopkins OVER 81.5 receiving yards (-114) — 5/5
Prop Prediction 3/Full Game: Travis Kelce OVER 88.5 yards (-114) — 3/5
Prop Predcition 4/Full Game: Duke Johnson OVER 30.5 yards (-114) — 4/5
It would not be surprising to see the Texans win this game outright, but getting a high-end hook on a TD+FG combination and driving the over/under to the point where someone must score 30 points to win is a teaser too good to ignore. Houston also had not scored 30 points in a game this season until last week’s thrashing of the Falcons. While they seem the more likely team to reach 30, it is possible the game could end in the high-20s for both teams.
Hopkins is the best pick fo the bunch, followed by Johnson, with the expectation for Kelce to have a bounce-back game considering how Mahomes felt he left plays on the field last weekend. Hopkins bettered this number last week despite the Falcons rotating their coverage plans towards him, and Watson should be able to find enough targets for his No. 1 receiver to get 100 yards.
Side Prediction/1st Half: Chiefs -3 (-115) — 3/5
More of anti-Texans pick than pro-Chiefs one, Houston’s offense has needed time to click in most of its games. The Texans have scored just 10 first-quarter points and been outscored 50-46 in the first half of their five games. Kansas City is still fearsome in the second quarter with 77 points and has a plus-42 differential in the first two quarters.
It would not be surprising to see the Chiefs with a touchdown lead going into the locker room, or even a four-point edge to clear this number.
Total Prediction/1st Half: UNDER 27.5 points (-115) — 3/5
Again tempting fate taking the under with a low-side hook on a touchdown total, but last week’s game was the first time Houston cleared 24 in the first half. The Chiefs, in some ways, are victims of their own offensive proficiency — most weekends 26 would be enough to clear like they had in Week 4 against Detroit, but no, and they had 23 last weekend versus Indianapolis. This looks to be another close, but no cigar, with Hill’s ability to contribute an unknown and Watkins out.
Prop Prediction/1st Half: Chiefs race to 10 points (-186) — 4/5
The Chiefs have won this race in both their home games, while the Texans have lost in this category in their last three contests. Figure a boisterous Arrowhead crowd in, and Kansas City is worth a play here considering the first half play is laying three points with the home team.