As we near the end of the 2019 regular season, we get treated to a rare and welcome sight: NFL on Saturday. It takes a little getting used to seeing NFL regular-season action on a Saturday, but it so perfectly fills the void viciously left by college football two weeks ago. Road teams have historically been very profitable on Saturday, going 46-29 ATS since 2003, good for 61.4%. An even better trend is road favorites which have gone 20-10-2 ATS, hitting at 66.7%.
We get to test that trend out right away on Saturday afternoon. Kicking off at 1 pm EST is a cross-conference matchup between the road favorite Texans who travel across the Gulf of Mexico to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This game is meaningless for Tampa Bay, but the Bucs will still be looking to close their season out strong in the first year under new head coach Bruce Arians. Jameis Winston will also be plenty motivated to continue his hot stretch of games and salvage what’s left of an interception-ridden season.
For the Texans, the game holds much more meaning. The AFC South title is waiting for the Texans if they pull off the road victory. With a loss and a Titans win though, the AFC South will be crowned on Week 17 as Tennessee travels to Houston.
Texans Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense
To beat the Buccaneers defense, you need to have a proficient passing game. Luckily for the Texans, they may have the best quarterback/wide receiver combo in the league with Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans also have speedster Will Fuller back at full strength and have seen Kenny Stills step up to make big plays whenever his number has been called.
The Buccaneers are surprisingly effective against opponent’s running games, but Houston should be happy to pass the ball all day on Tampa Bay’s less than impressive pass defense. The Bucs are #1 in rushing yards allowed per game at 73.3, but part of that number may be due to the fact that teams are perfectly fine throwing the ball on the Tampa Bay secondary. The Bucs do also rank #1 in rushing defense DVOA, so, this team is legitimately elite at shutting down a running game.
Houston does like to run the ball, ranking 11th in rushing attempts per game at 27.4 and ranking 7th in yards per game at 130.9. A lot of that, of course, can be attributed to Deshaun Watson taking off. Watson has 75 rushing attempts on the season and has run for 376 yards with 7 touchdowns. It’s been a mixed bag for the Bucs defense against mobile quarterbacks. When facing the Seahawks, Russell Wilson ran the ball just once, but it was for 21 yards. Against the Cardinals, Kyler Murray ran the ball three times for 38 yards.
Buccaneers Offense vs. Titans Defense
The Bucs have a potent offense when healthy. But, unfortunately for Tampa Bay, they’re more banged up than they have been all season. Their #1 wide receiver Mike Evans is out for sure, and Chris Godwin, who has arguably been better than Evans this season is also not likely to play. Breshad Perriman makes for a great fantasy pick up and potential DFS play. But overall, the passing game is going to be extremely limited for Jameis Winston.
Ronald Jones is a capable pass-catcher out of the backfield but has not impressed running the ball. Jones is averaging 3.7 yards per attempt and has just 541 yards rushing on the season. The other potential receiving threat for Tampa Bay is tight end, O.J. Howard. Howard was supposed to be an elite prospect coming out of Alabama, but he’s managed 5 receptions in a game just once all year, and that was back in Week 3.
On defense, the Texans generally play in a soft shell and that kind of conservative approach should work well against the Bucs limited passing attack. Overall, Houston has a poor pass defense ranked just 27th per DVOA, but it may be hard for Jameis to take advantage, despite leading the league in passing yards with 4,573. Winston’s kryptonite, of course, is interceptions, but the Texans are one of the worst in the league with just 8 picks all year.
Houston outclasses Tampa Bay considerably in special teams DVOA, ranking #7 compared to the Bucs at #19. But while the Texans are higher rated overall on special teams, the Buccaneers do have the advantage at kicker.
Houston’s Ka’imi Fairbairn has struggled this season, hitting just 77.3% of his field goals, good for 27th in the league. He’s even worse at extra points, ranking 37th among kickers at 87.8%. Tampa Bay’s Matt Gay actually isn’t much better at extra points, hitting just 88.6% but has been considerably better on field goal attempts, going 25-29, good for a solidly average 86.2%. That may all be moot though if Gay can’t play on Saturday. He’s currently questionable with a groin injury and had limited participation in practice.
The Spread and Total
The look-ahead line on this game was Texans -1 but the opening line on this game was either Tampa Bay -1 or pick’em. Bettors have stampeded to the Texans side, bringing the line up to Houston -3 with 82% of the bets accounting for 85% of the money wagered on the spread. If and when it’s announced that Chris Godwin will not play, this number will likely climb to -3.5 or higher by game time.
Godwin’s availability is likely part of the reason that the total has dropped from an opening number of 53 all the way down to 49 at some shops. The consensus total currently seems to be 49.5 and that number may drop further by game time.
By Kyle Johansen