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Sunday night football heads to Reliant Stadium in Week 6 as Houston (5-0 straight up, 4-1 against the spread) welcomes Green Bay (2-3 SU, 1-4 ATS) for a primetime battle. At the start of the season, both teams were favorites to win their divisions and serious contenders to win this year’s Super Bowl. After five weeks, only one of the two has lived up to the preseason billing.
In early May, Cantor Gaming released point-spreads on every game in the NFL from Week 1 to Week 16. For this particular matchup, Green Bay was a 1 ½-point road favorite. Fast forward to this week's kickoff and the Texans are 3 ½-point home favorites, which came down from an opener of 5.
Along with Atlanta, Houston remains the only undefeated team in the NFL. However, some pundits are questioning the Texans’ victories which came against teams with a combined record of 9-17. The opponents certainly haven’t been strong but Houston has beaten three of them by 20 or more points and the other games weren’t as close as the final margin either.
Last Monday, the Texans held off the Jets 23-17 but failed to cover as nine-point road favorites. Even though the final margin was six points, Houston was on cruise-control in the second-half and the game would’ve been sealed up earlier if they converted field goals into touchdowns, plus they allowed a special teams score.
Unfortunately for the Texans, they did receive a loss last week in the injury department. Linebacker Brian Cushing was lost for the season to a knee injury, which is detrimental to the entire unit.
VegasInsider.com handicapper Mark Franco, who is tied for first-place in the legendary LVH Super Contest, weighed in on the injury and the affect for the Texans. “While losing Cushing is a significant loss, defensive coordinator Wade Phillip is one of the best in the league and will find a way to make up for his loss. It helps that the Texans have standout defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who leads the NFL with a whopping 8 1/2 sacks through the first five games of the season. He has a favorable matchup this week against a Packers offensive line that has surrendered 21 sacks so far, second-most in the NFL,” explained Franco.
Houston was in a similar position last season when it lost defensive end Mario Williams to a season-ending injury. The Texans adjusted, won their division and came up short for a chance to play in the AFC Championship.
As Franco mentioned, Green Bay’s offensive line has been very weak this season and it appears to be the main issue for the Packers. Last Sunday, the Packers were upset 30-27 to Indianapolis as 6 ½-point road favorites. What was more surprising is how Green Bay blew a 21-3 halftime lead and only managed six points in the final two quarters.
While 27 points seems high, let’s put things in perspective. Last year, Green Bay’s potent attack put up 30 or more points in 11 of 17 games. This season, the Packers haven’t busted that plateau in five games.
So what’s the problem with the Packers’ offense? According to Franco, “The Packers running game has been decent this year averaging 96 yards per game, but now primary back Cedric Benson is out with a serious foot injury. Back up Alex Green is expected to get the bulk of the carries against the Texans. Aaron Rodgers appears to be heating up having thrown seven touchdowns over his last two games. The main reason the Packers scoring is down this season is their lack of big down field plays and that has a lot to do with the offensive line not pass blocking well for Rogers.”
If you’re not familiar with Green, he’s a second-year player out of Hawaii. The Packers won’t have WR Greg Jennings (groin) in the lineup again, which doesn’t come as a surprise. A more important injury to Green Bay is the status of defensive tackle BJ Raji. The former Boston College standout is listed as ‘doubtful’ and that’s big considering Houston loves to run the ball.
The Texans are averaging 143 YPG on the ground. Houston’s ability to grind out yards and move the chains is the best in the league.
It’s easy to say that Houston is the better overall team, despite key injuries to each side. However, you have to scratch your head and wonder why the line dropped off the opener.
The Packers have gone 0-2 both SU and ATS on the road, both losses coming to teams that aren’t as good as the Texans. Sure, Green Bay should’ve won the Seattle matchup on MNF in Week 3 and last week’s game was attainable too. However, it’s hard to label a team good when you can’t capture close contests.
Staring at a possible 2-4 start, most would assume that this is a must-win for Green Bay but not Mark Franco. He said, “I believe the Packers are a talented enough team to rebound and make the playoffs if they lose this game on the road. A must-win game or not Green Bay will have to step it up on both sides of the ball if they are to beat the Texans on Sunday night.”
If you look at Green Bay’s schedule, it could lose this game and still be fine since the second-half of the season is stacked with divisional opponents. After this game, the Packers head to St. Louis for their third straight road game. Then they host Jacksonville and Arizona at Lambeau Field. Green Bay will be favored in all three games and assuming it delivers, the club will be 5-4 heading into the bye week. More importantly, the Packers play five of their final seven games inside the division and they’re already 1-0 in the NFC North.
The total for tonight’s contest is hovering around 47 points at most shops. The Texans have seen the ‘under’ go 3-2 this season but have scored 30 and 38 points in their two home games. The ‘over’ is 3-2 for Green Bay.
These teams have only met twice, the last encounter in 2008, and the visitor has won both meetings, each coming by exactly three points. The ‘under’ cashed in both affairs.
The betting public has had success on Sunday Night Football this season. In the five games, the home team has won all five and the favorite has gone 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS, with the lone non-cover coming in Baltimore’s 31-30 win over New England (+3) and most books probably had great two-way action on both sides in that contest. The ‘over’ has gone 3-2 during this span.
Can Green Bay become the first road team to win on SNF? Kickoff starts at 8:25 p.m. ET and NBC will provide national coverage.
Chris David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org