Introducing a new topic to Stadium Times: Prime Time Picks. Each week of the NFL regular season, I am going to pick at least one prime time game (Thursday, Sunday, or Monday night), and write an article previewing the matchup. At the end of the article, I will predict who will cover the spread. Simple enough, and I think it will make the prime time games even more exciting (at least for me).
I will also be posting these picks (and others) to Twitter @stadium_times, along with all other sports content that I regularly post. Feel free to follow along!
Week 1 Prime Time Picks: Texans (+330) vs Chiefs (-9) O/U: 54.5 – All lines via DraftKings
The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on February 2nd, 2020. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this, but that feels like it was no less than 197 years ago. But alas, the NFL returns on Thursday with the defending Super Bowl champs hosting the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
Chiefs Aiming for History
The Chiefs are looking to become just the 8th team in NFL history to win back-to-back Super Bowls, and the first team to do it since the Patriots in 2003-04. They are certainly poised to do so. With reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes leading the charge, the Kansas City offense is sure to bring a lot of firepower again this year.
Texans Eye Third Straight Division Title
The Texans come in to the 2020 season having won the AFC South each of the past two years. Although they have not sustained much playoff success, they are still a team that can make some noise this season.
The Chiefs Offense Got Better This Offseason
Kansas City’s offense is already stacked with talent. Players like Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, and Demarcus Robinson make the Chiefs one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. They were 5th in total offense last season, averaging 28.2 points per game. But they felt that wasn’t enough. With the last pick of the 1st round of the NFL Draft in April, the Chiefs selected LSU running back Cyde Edwards-Helaire. All he did last year at LSU was rush for 1,414 yards (Third most in a single season in school history) and 16 touchdowns on 215 carries. He is also dangerous out of the backfield catching passes, as he had 453 receiving yards and a touchdown on 55 receptions. He was a consensus first team All-SEC selection, and was the only SEC running back to be named a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award. And oh yeah, he was a part of arguably the greatest offense in college football history that helped LSU to an undefeated season and National Championship title. Adding him to the Chiefs offense just seems unfair.
Deshaun Watson Signed the Dotted Line
Since being drafted #12 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, Deshaun Watson has proven that he is a franchise quarterback. The Texans showed that he will continue to be their guy, as they signed Watson to a 4-year, $160M contract extension this week. Watson will now bring in the second-largest annual average salary in the league at $39 million/year, second only to Mahomes at $45 million/year. Watson has only played three seasons, but he already ranks second in Texans franchise history in TD passes with 71, and his 9,716 passing yards ranks third. In addition to his throwing ability, Watson is a very effective scrambler and runner. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he is one of just two players in NFL history to have multiple seasons (2018, ’19) with 25 passing touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns. Steve Young did the same in 1994 and 1998. Last season, Watson threw for 3,582 yards, and had 26 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. He added 413 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. He also had one of the most insane plays of last season–throwing a game-winning touchdown pass after getting kicked in the eye.
According to NFL Network’s Melissa Stark, Watson thought his eyeball had fallen out when Raiders linebacker Tahir Whitehead’s foot found inadvertently hit him through the facemark. So he thought he lost his eye during the play, then proceeded to throw the game-winning touchdown pass nearly blind. Unreal.
No More DeAndre Hopkins for Houston
Watson will be without superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, as he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in a questionable move in March. Hopkins himself just signed a contract extension, a 2-year extension worth $54.5 million. With Hopkins catching passes last season, the Texans had a middle-of-the-road passing game. They averaged 236.4 yards per game, which was 15th in the league. They do still have a solid core of receivers, including Will Fuller V and Kenny Stills, as well as newcomers Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb.
Exit Carlos Hyde, Insert David Johnson
In another key loss for the Texans offense this offseason, running back Carlos Hyde signed with the Seattle Seahawks. Hyde led a decent Texans rushing attack last season, rushing for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. He ended with 1,070 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. The Texans run game was 9th in the league, averaging 125.6 yards per game. This season, Houston has former Cardinal David Johnson as their number one running back. Last year, Hyde ran for 4.4 yards per carry, and Johnson averaged just 3.7. After rushing for 1,239 yards and 16 TD’s in his Pro-Bowl 2016 season, Johnson dislocated his wrist in the first game of the 2017 season. He missed the rest of the season. He returned in 2018 to rush for 940 yards and seven touchdowns. Last season he was a part of a “running back by committee” approach, as Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds split the backfield with Johnson. Johnson rushed for only 345 yards and two touchdowns, and missed three games with an ankle injury. He is now a Texan, and this season offers him a fresh start as a part of a very dynamic offense. He will certainly have a chance to prove himself in Week 1 against a Chiefs rushing defense that was 25th in the league last year, giving up 124.8 yards per game to opposing rushers.
Texans Defense and the J.J. Watt Effect
Texans five-time All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt is unquestionably one of the best defensive players in the game. However, last season he played just eight games and had only four sacks. His absence hurt the Texans defense, as they finished 24th in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up 123.7 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. The Texans blog Battle Red Blog noted that Houston’s defense allowed 4.4 yards per play with Watt in the lineup (19th in the NFL), and 5.0 when he was out (31st). Watt is back, and although the Chiefs are known as more of a passing attack, the presence of Clyde Edwards-Helaire has the potential to cause some problems for this below-average Texans rushing defense.
The Patrick Mahomes Effect
Patrick Mahomes is on top of the world. With just two full NFL seasons under his belt, Mahomes has accomplished just about everything. He holds 10 NFL records and six Chiefs franchise records. He is a Super Bowl Champion, Super Bowl MVP, NFL MVP, 2x Pro Bowler, First-Team All-Pro, and Offensive Player of the Year. Last season Mahomes threw for 26 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. He makes throws that nobody else can, and at 24 years old, he is just getting started.
Recent History in This Matchup
These teams faced each other twice last year, with each team winning one game. In the regular season, the Texans beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead 31-24. They met again in the AFC Divisional Round, with the Texans jumping out to a 24-0 lead in the first 19 minutes of the game. It didn’t matter. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs orchestrated a massive comeback, and won the game 51-31. It was a historic comeback, as the Chiefs became the first NFL team to overcome that big of a deficit in playoff history. It was certainly one of the most bizarre and exciting games in recent postseason memory, and will no doubt be weighing on the Texans’ minds as they enter this Week 1 matchup.
Both offenses have the firepower to put up points, but Watson will definitely miss having DeAndre Hopkins as his #1 receiver. He still has nice pieces to throw to, but it may take a while to get the chemistry and new dynamic down. In addition, David Johnson is coming off of multiple injuries in the past three years, and the Texans offensive line is ranked just 23rd in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. The Texans have many bright spots, but there are a lot of unknowns about this team. I am not confident that the new pieces of the Texans offense will be able to keep up with the reigning Super Bowl champs. With the Chiefs, you know what you are getting. They have the firepower to score on any given play, and the addition of Edwards-Helaire only makes them more dangerous. The nine point spread may be a lot, but I don’t see the Chiefs falling behind to a massive deficit like the playoff game last year (a game in which they still won by 20). In addition, the Super Bowl banner in Arrowhead will be revealed before the game, and I think that will provide even more motivation for the Chiefs to start their season defending their championship in convincing fashion.