It’s rare, especially in this high-scoring era of the NFL, when a defensive player is the face of a franchise. But there is no doubt the Houston Texans are J.J. Watt’s team.
It could be argued Watt is a two-way player, considering he scored more touchdowns than Kansas City Chiefs wide receivers did last season. Watt was second in the league with 20½ sacks, and at times he carried a team that rotated mediocre quarterbacks.
But will Watt be powering the best defense on the field today in Houston? The answer, according to handicapper Chuck Edel, is to bet on the Texans as 1-point favorites over the Chiefs, who have a mediocre quarterback of their own.
Alex Smith passed for 18 touchdowns last season, but none to a Chiefs wide receiver, and Smith will be feeling the heat from Watt at his defensive end spot and from linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Brian Cushing.
“The Texans have got a tough defense, and I’m not an Alex Smith guy. He checks down and throws 3-yard passes,” said Edel (SportsXradio.com). “This number looks cheap to me. I like Houston, although I know Kansas City is getting a lot of love.”
In scoring defense, the Chiefs ranked No. 2 in the league last season by allowing 17.6 points per game. The Texans ranked seventh (19.2).
The difference, Edel said, should be an improved Houston offense led by quarterback Brian Hoyer, a Cleveland castoff. Star running back Arian Foster is sidelined by injury, but the Texans have a capable replacement in Alfred Blue, and they added wideouts Cecil Shorts III and Nate Washington to complement playmaker DeAndre Hopkins.
Houston coach Bill O’Brien’s reputation for working well with quarterbacks should benefit Hoyer.
“I actually like Hoyer,” Edel said. “He’s not Joe Namath, but I think he’s adequate for managing a team.”
Kansas City has been attracting betting action after its impressive 4-0 preseason.
Edel (ChuckEdel.com) analyzes the rest of the Week 1 lineup:
Green Bay (-7) at Chicago: The Packers are a big public play. They beat the Bears in eight of the past nine meetings and outscored them 93-31 in two games last year. Without their top wide receiver, Jordy Nelson, and with Randall Cobb playing with a banged-up shoulder, I think you will see a lot of running back Eddie Lacy. Chicago’s run defense is not that good. Green Bay looks like the obvious side, almost too obvious. I’m not going to play the game.
Cleveland at New York Jets (-3½): I like the Jets. We know they are good defensively, and the Browns cannot run or pass. Josh McCown had a 1-10 record as the starter last year in Tampa Bay. Cleveland went 1-15 the past two seasons when Brian Hoyer was not the starting quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick can manage the New York offense. The Jets look like the side, even with the line moving from 3 to 3½ late in the week.
Indianapolis (-2½) at Buffalo: I’m still not sure how effective Tyrod Taylor will be as the Bills’ starting quarterback, and running back LeSean McCoy is not 100 percent in his return from a hamstring injury. Their offense could be a little shaky. Buffalo ranked No. 4 in total defense last season, and you know new coach Rex Ryan will put together another really good defense. If the Colts have a weakness, it’s their defense. I initially leaned to the Bills, but I’m staying away. Buffalo is a trendy ‘dog.
Miami (-3½) at Washington: The Dolphins will be improved, but I don’t like laying points on the road, and this looks like a public game. Miami was 24th in rush defense last season, allowing 121 yards per game, and adding Ndamukong Suh to the defensive line will help. Ryan Tannehill is getting better as a quarterback. The Dolphins added tight end Jordan Cameron and wide receivers Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker. But I don’t think the Redskins will be as bad as everybody thinks after the troubles they had in preseason. It’s too high of a number. I lean to Washington.
Carolina (-3) at Jacksonville: The Panthers are extremely good defensively, but I think Cam Newton is really going to struggle with this offense. Losing his top wideout, Kelvin Benjamin, was a big setback. I like how the Jacksonville defense pressures the quarterback. Blake Bortles, who threw 17 interceptions and had 11 touchdown passes as a rookie for the Jaguars, will be better with another year in the system. I played Jacksonville and under the total (41).
Seattle (-4) at St. Louis: These are always close games between these teams. The Seahawks lost by two on the road and won 20-6 — a deceiving score — at home in last season’s meetings. I think Seattle is going to drop down a notch. The Seahawks did pick up tight end Jimmy Graham, but their offensive line could be a problem. St. Louis is strong on the defensive line. I lean to the Rams and under (41).
New Orleans at Arizona (-2½): Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was decent in the preseason, but after a knee injury in Cincinnati, he mentally wasn’t the same guy for a while. The Saints lost Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, but they have Drew Brees and a good nucleus on offense, and I like Sean Payton as an offensive coach. I like both of these coaches. New Orleans is better than some people think. Arizona went 7-1 at home last season. This is a tough game, so I’m staying away.
Detroit at San Diego (-3): I’m not high on the Lions. Detroit won games with defense last season, and it’s huge to lose Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line. The Lions ranked No. 2 in total defense and No. 1 in run defense. I’m not a big fan of quarterback Matthew Stafford, and the Lions are not a strong road team. The Chargers are a well-coached team. I lean to San Diego, but I’ll probably stay away.
Tennessee at Tampa Bay (-3): Two rookie quarterbacks go head to head — Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston — and Mariota looked better in preseason games. Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will come up with some good stuff to confuse Winston. Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans has had a hamstring injury, but he might return. You have two teams that were 2-14 last season. To me, the game is a coin flip. LeBeau could be a big factor. The Titans are probably the right side.
Cincinnati (-3) at Oakland: New coach Jack Del Rio has the Raiders going in the right direction. I buy the hype the Raiders will be better. But I think the Bengals are better at every position, and it’s a bad matchup for Oakland. I’m not an Andy Dalton fan, but he can just throw the ball up and A.J. Green catches everything. I’m not playing this, but I would only take the Bengals.
Baltimore at Denver (-4½): Chalk this one up. If you’re going to take Peyton Manning, take him early in the year in warm weather when he hasn’t been hit a lot. You will get the best Manning early in the year. I don’t want him at the end of the year in cold weather. But people already have Manning washed up. Gary Kubiak is a good offensive coach. Baltimore still has a good defense, but I like Manning and the Broncos in this one. The line looked cheap at minus-4.
New York Giants at Dallas (-6): The line looks about right. I know the public is all over the Cowboys, but I can’t take the Giants. Even with Victor Cruz out, Eli Manning has weapons with wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle, and the Dallas secondary is weak. But the Giants ranked 29th in total defense (375.8 yards per game) and allowed 25 points per game to rank 22nd last season. It will be a bad defense again. The Cowboys are strong on the offensive line, but they are going to miss running back DeMarco Murray. These are usually competitive games. It’s not a game I want to play.
— Compiled by Matt Youmans/Las Vegas Review-Journal