The Ravens return last season’s MVP, Lamar Jackson. The Texans have one of this season’s MVP darkhorse candidates in Deshaun Watson. In a battle of electrifying quarterbacks and would-be Super Bowl contenders, the Texans will fight to avoid an 0-2 hole; while the expanded playoff field changes those NFL odds slightly, only 12% of 0-2 teams have made the playoffs in the past 12 seasons. Given that they’re facing the two NFL betting favorites for the Super Bowl - in the Chiefs last week and the Ravens this week - in consecutive weeks, the challenge is a tall one.
Despite it only being NFL Week 2, Texans’ coach and GM Bill O’Brien may have a hot seat this season if the Texans don’t win another division title and seriously contend this season, given the trades he’s made in recent seasons—including trading away DeAndre Hopkins, trading for Laremy Tunsil without first negotiating a new contract, and many more. As a result, the Texans need to play more competitively than they did against the Chiefs in Week 1. There’s a reason, though, that most NFL betting lines are currently hovering around Ravens -7; most online sports betting sites see the Ravens (as well as the Chiefs last week) as being substantially better than the Texans. Let’s look at why that might be.
Key matchups to watch
Several key matchups stand out. In addition to the battle of electrifying young quarterbacks, line play will be important on Sunday. The Texans’ offensive line got eaten alive by the Chiefs in Week 1 (Watson was sacked four times and hurried 17 times — 8 more than any other quarterback), and in NFL Week 2 they’ll face a much more fearsome front four; the Ravens were second in the league in knockdowns last season.
The matchup on the sideline will similarly be interesting to watch, given that Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh is generally considered one of the best active coaches and O’Brien is...well, not. While the Texans went 10-6 and won their division last season, they were outscored on the season and were more likely to give up a score on any given drive than they were to score.
The Texans bring back a defense that was 22nd in the league by DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) last year after being 5th the year previous to face a Ravens offense that was far and away the best in the league by DVOA last season, ranking first both in passing offense and rushing offense. Similarly, if the Texans have to air it out (should they fall behind early), they can: The Texans averaged 8.8 intended air yards per pass last season and when it came to fourth-quarter comebacks, only 3 quarterbacks had more than Watson’s three last season. As a result, when it comes to NFL betting lines, the current total (between 52-54, depending on the sportsbook casino) may feel low to those who think this may turn into a shootout.
Other key matchups include the Texans’ run defense (19th by DVOA last season and gouged for 138 yards by Clyde Edwards-Helaire last week) against the multipronged Ravens’ rushing attack (which set numerous NFL records last season) and the opportunistic Ravens’ secondary, which forced 25 takeaways last season, against a questionable set of Texans’ receivers, playing in only their second game since trading away franchise cornerstone DeAndre Hopkins.
Key questions to watch for the Texans as they look to avoid falling into an 0-2 and losing further playoff positioning include:
- Whether they’re able to protect Watson, who was hurried an astonishing 17 times last week by the Chiefs;
- Whether they’re able to establish any offensive balance (outside of a 19-yard carry by David Johnson last week, the Texans’ run game was largely stuffed);
- Whether their linebackers can keep up with the Ravens’ frequent misdirection and power run game (the Ravens gouged the Texans for 256 yards on the ground when they met last season in a 41-7 rout).
The answers to those questions will go a long way in determining whether or not the Texans can get their first win of the young season. For those looking at NFL betting picks, the Texans have played the Ravens 11 times previously, with the Ravens winning 9 of those games.
While O’Brien has repeatedly defended his moves, saying “Those moves did pay off,” the lack of depth and having only five draft picks this past spring will likely hurt them down the road. Falling to 0-2 in NFL Week 2 won’t help, either.
Key questions to watch for the Baltimore Ravens as they look to redeem last season’s early playoff exit include:
- Whether or not defending MVP Lamar Jackson can continue to keep up his high level of play, given how most MVP's’ performances regress to the mean the following season;
- Whether or not their defensive front four can get after Watson and the Texans’ offensive line;
- Whether or not they can establish their run game early and often.
Winning an MVP is no small feat, and usually reflects the pinnacle of a player’s ability. Two stats that stick out from Jackson’s winning campaign last season are 6.9 yards per carry and a 9% touchdown rate. Let’s look at each a little more closely. Michael Vick has the highest career average at 7.0 yards per carry, and that’s a point of comparison for Jackson, but even Vick never ran as often as Jackson. When Cam Newton set the record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a season, with 14 in 2011, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry—which seems like a more reasonable point of comparison. Keeping up such a high yards-per-carry rate seems unlikely unless Jackson is used as a runner more sparingly this season. As far as the 9% touchdown rate, only two other quarterbacks have ever thrown touchdowns as frequently (minimum 300 attempts): Peyton Manning in 2004, who fell from 9.9% to 6.2% the following season, and Aaron Rodgers in 2011, who fell from 9.0% to 7.1% the following season. As a result, Jackson’s NFL odds for a second consecutive MVP could be worth keeping an eye on, as could other Jackson-related NFL betting lines.
When Watson has time to throw, he is one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the NFL and could be a dark horse candidate when it comes to NFL betting picks for MVP. All too frequently, however, Watson has been used and abused by opposing defenses, leading the league with 62 sacks taken in 2018 - and with 129 sacks taken in 39 career games now. As a result, he’s suffered injuries each season. If the Ravens can get after Watson in NFL Week 2 like the Chiefs did in Week 1 (or like the Ravens did last season for that matter), the damage Watson can create will likely be minimal.
Finally, if the Ravens can get their ground game going early, they can wear the Texans down; this is an area in which they excelled last season, leading the league in every meaningful drive metric: yards per drive, points per drive, plays per drive, time of possession per drive, and drive success rate.
NFL Week 2 Preview Summary
The Baltimore Ravens have too much talent—they return a league-high twelve Pro Bowl players and their entire coaching staff from last season—to not pull out another win in their lopsided series with the Houston Texans. Ultimately, the Texans’ lack of depth means they’re uniquely unprepared for a team that eats up clock the way the Ravens do, with their power running and ball control.
Betting Picks and Predictions
Not only did the Houston Texans fail to cover the 9.5-point spread against the Chiefs in Week 1, but the Baltimore Ravens were never in danger of failing to cover the 7-point line in blowing out the Browns last week. With a current over/under hovering around 52 for most NFL betting lines, how you feel about each team’s offense will determine how you feel about the total at your sportsbook casino.