- Win Over/Under: 8.5 (-135/+115)
- Make AFC Playoffs: -120 (55%)
- Win AFC South: +200 (33%)
- Win AFC Championship: +800 (11%)
- Win Super Bowl: +1600 (6%)
The Action Network’s Projected Wins: 9.26 (9th)
Ryan Fitzpatrick. Brian Hoyer. Brock Osweiler. Deshaun Watson.
One of these quarterbacks is not like the others.
Even though Watson went on a six-week rampage that would have been good enough to finish No. 1 in ESPN’s Total QBR had he qualified, and even though head coach Bill O’Brien led the Texans to a 9-7 record with each of those journeymen before Watson, Houston’s preseason win total sits at 8.5 for the fourth year in a row (albeit with juice on the over).
Watson’s numbers as the Texans starter were so silly that you almost had to question whether defenders were on the field at all.
He averaged 308.4 total yards and 3.33 total touchdowns per game, and nearly as many yards per rush attempt (7.4) as per pass attempt (8.7). The Texans also ripped off 34.7 points per game in his six starts.
Those numbers will be almost impossible to repeat … and yet regression toward the mean is the biggest thing working in Watson’s favor for 2018.
The Texans need Watson on the field. While he went 3-3 as a starter, their point differential in his starts equaled 10.5 wins according to Pythagorean expectation. They need his games played to regress to the mean, or the other numbers aren’t important.
And history says it will.
In the nine instances where starting quarterbacks have suffered a torn ACL between 2006 and 2016, they played an average of 13.4 games the next season, and more than half played all 16.
Being able to confidently project Watson for a full or near-full season is critical, because even once regression is factored in, Watson is still likely to be an above-average quarterback:
- The five quarterbacks since the merger who started at least six games in their first two seasons and averaged at least 8.3 yards per attempt as rookies saw an average dip of 0.7 yards per attempt in Year 2. If Watson dips to 7.6 yards per attempt, he would still rank in the top 10 (by last season’s numbers).
- Watson’s passing touchdown rate of 9.3% was the best of all time for a rookie, but the five quarterbacks to start at least six games in Years 1 and 2 and average a touchdown rate of even 6.5% collectively dipped to 5.7% the next season. A 5.7% touchdown rate last year would have been good for fifth overall.
The Texans took three losses with Watson because the defense gave up points faster than even Watson could score them — and because seemingly the entire defense got injured.
The Patriots put up 36 points on the Texans in Week 3, and the Chiefs threw 42 on the scoreboard in Week 5, the game in which J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus were both lost for the season. And then the Seahawks hung 41 on them two games later.
With Watt and Mercilus back to complement the pass-rushing terror that is Jadeveon Clowney, Houston’s front seven is a strength again.
Defensive linemen D.J. Reader and Christian Covington as well as linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham provide a stout run defense that makes opponents look like … the Texans own running game (more on that later).
The wealth of talented front-seven players allows coordinator Romeo Crennel’s defense to dictate blocking matchups to the offense via it’s five-man “diamond” front. The group has earned strong grades from Pro Football Focus, ranking No. 5 in pass rush and No. 8 in run defense heading into 2018.
The Texans’ biggest issue last season was a secondary that got smoked like a rack of ribs, but that should improve as well.
Cornerback Kevin Johnson battled injuries and went from allowing a passer rating of 68.8 in 2016 to 137.3 in 2017 (per PFF), while fellow corner Jonathan Joseph was lucky anytime he could keep his longest gain allowed in a given week lower than his age (34).
To that end, the Texans signed former Jaguars slot corner Aaron Colvin, who allowed 5.21 yards per target in 2017 and could be an upgrade on the outside in base defense, too.
Safety is where the biggest improvements could come: Rookie third-round pick Justin Reid is a versatile size/speed player who had a good preseason. By all accounts, Kareem Jackson has made a smooth transition from corner to safety. Free-agent signee Tyrann Mathieu should also give Houston more versatility.
The one position group that might not be improved is the offensive line, which ranks dead last in PFF’s ratings for 2018.
Without much blocking to speak of, running back Lamar Miller had as many 100-yard rushing games last season as you or I did.
The AWOL running game has made it tough to wager on Houston against anything but the worst run defenses: According to BetLabs, over the past two years the Texans are 4-0 against the spread vs. teams that allow 4.65 yards per carry or more. Otherwise, they have a .320 ATS win rate.
Watson also has a tendency to take sacks, so having an NFL-worst tackle situation with Julie’n Davenport and Seantrel Henderson doesn’t help.
The over went 5-1 in Watson’s starts, but potential offensive regression and defensive improvement could cause it to fall more in line with Houston’s 42.1% rate under O’Brien in non-Watson starts.
Ultimately, though, the Texans aren’t likely to suffer the same fate as last season because the schedule is one of the most favorable in the league, even after accounting for road games in New England, Jacksonville and Philadelphia, which are offset by home games against Buffalo, Cleveland and Miami.
The Texans face only five teams projected by Vegas win totals to be at least .500.
O’Brien has his best quarterback yet and a talented defense, so even with juice on the over, it’s tough to bet that he won’t lead the Texans to their fourth winning record in five years. – Chris Raybon
The Bet: Over 8.5 Wins
(Oh, and they also have this guy.)
Houston Texans 2018 Schedule
- Games Favored: 9
- Avg. Spread: -2.1
- Strength of Schedule: 11th (1 = Easiest, 32 = Hardest)
Survivor Pool 101
- Use the Texans: Week 6 vs. BUF, Week 8 vs. MIA, Week 13 vs. CLE, Week 14 vs. IND
- Use Texans’ opponents: Week 1 @ NE
Fantasy Football Outlook
- Top Picks: WR DeAndre Hopkins, RB Lamar Miller, QB Deshaun Watson, WR Will Fuller
- Sleeper: TE Ryan Griffin
Best of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+
“They’ve got the highest ticket count to win the division, and we’ve written some smaller tickets on them to win the Super Bowl.”
– Westgate bookmaker Jeff Sherman to The Action Network’s Michael Leboff
Deshaun Watson Over/Under 28.5 Passing Touchdowns? (+100/-130)
Act fast, because this prop will surely get bet down. By my calculations, it’s nearly two full touchdowns too high.
Watson was on pace to throw more than 40 touchdowns before tearing his ACL, but there was roughly a 99% chance his touchdown rate would have regressed in the second half of the season.
Unfortunately, we never got to find out just how great the regression would have been.
Watson is one of the most fascinating players to project in 2018. We need to factor in the right blend of sound math while also accounting for the possibility that he might be a better NFL quarterback than anyone expected.
I would set the “true” line for this prop closer to 26.5 touchdowns. – Sean Koerner
The Bet: Under 28.5 Passing Touchdowns
Bank on DeAndre Hopkins in DFS
Hopkins has consistently proven capable of performing no matter who is under center (unless the quarterback’s name is Brock Osweiler).
Over the course of Hopkins’ career, he’s averaged at least 16.9 fantasy points per game with six different quarterbacks. Last year with Watson he posted a career-high mark of 21.1.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Hopkins has been extremely consistent across a wide variety of circumstances: According to the FantasyLabs NFL Trends tool, he’s averaged between 17.0 and 18.6 DraftKings points per game as both a favorite and an underdog, at home and on the road. – Ian Hartitz
More on the 2018 Houston Texans
- Why the Houston Texans 2018 Win Total is Too Low
- Lamar Miller: Fantasy’s Cheapest Featured Back?
- Deshaun Watson: The Michael Jordan of Fantasy Football?
- Will Fuller: Fantasy’s Highest-Upside No. 2 WR?