Week 1 is always difficult to handicap. Hell, who am I kidding, every week is difficult to handicap. Week 1 just happens to present an element we don’t see in any other week… The unknown.
In the words of Simon Sinek, “The challenge of the unknown future is so much more exciting than the stories of the accomplished past”. Between player movement, coaching/scheme changes, injuries, off season improvement, stadium name changes (even though this happened in ’14)…. There’s just too many factors, and not enough current data, to accurately project Week 1 results. The good news is, this applies to the bookmakers as well.
Sure, they have years of data to base their models off, and have more information on these teams than the average person could ever imagine, but it’s a new year and Week 1 is always full of surprises.
Houston, Do We Have a Problem?
Houston opens the season off back to back 9-7 seasons, and as the defending AFC South Champions. They’ve made some significant changes on the offensive side of the ball, all of which appear to put them in position to home the AFC South crown for a 2nd straight season… On paper.
Houston hasn’t had a good QB since Warren Moon (Steve McNair doesn’t count). Hoyer was solid last year, but once he went down due to injury, they played a combination of Ryan Mallet, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden. Honestly, I’m not sure if these guys are even on NFL rosters at this point. However, the offseason signing of Brock Osweiler should help sure up the position. He’s spent his entire 4 year NFL career learning under Peyton Manning and John Elway (two pretty decent mentors), and is coming off a solid year in Denver. The Texans boast one of the better offensive lines in the league, which has to be a welcome sight for Brock, as the Broncos struggled to protect him last season (13th most sacks allowed).
Houston has been a run-centric team over the years, and as good as Arian Foster was, he struggled to stay on the field. As a result, they went younger, and picked up Lamar Miller; easily one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. After being underutilized in Miami, he’ll fit right into to Houston’s system, and finally have the opportunity to live up to his potential. He’ll have a big year. Oh, and let’s not forget Osweiler’s new #1 receiver – DeAndre Hopkins. He only managed 111 catches for 1,521 yards, and 11 TDs last season, with QBs who aren’t exactly Hall of Fame bound… It’ll be hard for Brock to fail in this offense.
At Least the Cubs are Contenders
The Bears open the season off back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North, and haven’t had an above .500 season since 2012. One of the factors leading to their recent struggles, has been poor play on the defensive side of the ball. The days of the “Monsters of Midway” are nothing more than a distant memory. However, they’ve made some solid additions (most notably Danny Trevathan), and should be a significantly better defensive unit this season. However, their secondary is still a concern.
Offensively, the Bears have the talent to score with anyone in the league, but they’ve struggled to stay healthy. Over the course of his career, Jay Cutler has been one of the most scrutinized QBs in the NFL, but his talent is unquestioned. If healthy, the WR trio of Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, and Kevin White could be one of the more imposing WR corps in the league, and both Zach Miller, and Jeremy Langford, were solid in their 2015 Bears debuts… Bears fans should be excited about this offense. The problem will be keeping Cutler upright. Cutler was sacked 29 times in 15 games last season (16th in the league), and the Bears lost 3 starting lineman in free agency.
Who Wins, and Why
The Texans are 4-1 in their last 5 home openers, and have one of the better home field advantages in the league. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the beginning of the “Brock era”, and NRG will be loud for this one. This should be an exciting game, as both teams have good offenses, but the difference will be on the defensive side of the ball.
Houston has a great front 7 (J.J. Watt should be available), and a very underrated secondary. This, combined with the Bears offensive line struggles, suggest that Cutler could be in for a long day. As the old adage goes, defense wins championships, but it also wins games. The Bears won’t have enough to get stops when it matters, and the Texans will. Houston wins this one by 10.
Pick: Texans -4