Two teams that many had as Super Bowl picks coming out of the preseason have drifted in completely different directions to start the year.
The Houston Texans are one of the league’s two undefeated teams at 5-0 while the Green Bay Packers have stumbled to a 2-3 record.
A week six match-up between these two pits a Packers team desperate to keep pace in a competitive NFC North while the Texans attempt to further establish their selves as the best team in the league.
Houston Texans (5-0) Analysis: The Texans didn’t look great in a 23-17 Monday Night triumph against the overly-talked-about New York Jets, but a win is a win, especially on the road. The Texans most valuable strength is their balance on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Matt Schaub ranks 7th in the league with a 72.5 QBR (hat tip to ESPN for an awesome stat, love the QBR) and quite frankly hasn’t had to throw that much. Stud running back Arian Foster leads the league with 132 carries and five touchdowns. While the Packers run defense has been solid, they haven’t seen a premier back who’s half the man Foster is (sorry Marshawn).
In what appears to a glimmer of hope for the Pack is the fact that the Texans lost their best player on defense, linebacker Brian Cushing. Defensive end J.J. Watt has been a beast no doubt, but he wasn’t the glue in the middle of the field like Cushing was. Without Cushing, Houston becomes vulnerable up the middle. However, that’s been a big weakness of Green Bay’s game, their backs can’t reach that second level and the wide receivers haven’t done a lot in that area of the field. The play of Aaron Rodgers is critical as the Texans have held opposing signal callers to a league-worst 11.6 QBR (there’s that stat again).
Green Bay Packers (2-3) Analysis: Let’s pretend the Packers didn’t let Andrew Luck go Superman on them and lead the Indianapolis Colts to a 30-27 upset win. Wouldn’t we be looking at this Texans game as a possible Super Bowl preview? Instead, it’s a game where the Packers try to correct their numerous problems (GB has 99 problems but winning ain’t one).
All the talk about the performance of Aaron Rodgers has been a little ill-advised. While he’s not putting up those once-in-a-lifetime MVP numbers, he’s still the 8th highest-rated passer in the NFL at 97.0. The biggest problems involve the o-line and play-calling. Rodgers has been sacked 21 times which is the second highest mark in the NFL. It conjures up memories of 2009 when A-Rod pretty much held the ball too long on every play. That’s only part of the story this season. Other teams have no problem figuring out the Packers when they throw on over 70% of the plays; in those games they are 2-8 since 2010 (thanks ESPN Stats & Info). When they choose a more balanced attack, they are 29-3.
Green Bay’s defense has been up-and-down on the year. You get the sense they want to be one of those ball-hawk units who gives up the occasional big play, but forces turnovers. The only problem is that they haven’t had the best luck in that department. Rookie Nick Perry‘s hit on Luck would have been a perfect example of what they’re looking for, but instead it was a $15,000 fine. They should be very worried if nose tackle B.J. Raji has to sit this one out with an ankle injury. If Foster wasn’t dangerous enough, the absence of “The Freezer,” gives him a lot more room to work with. With the emphasis on Foster, Green Bay needs significant contributions from Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.
Prediction: Houston Texans 27 Green Bay Packers 24
I can definitely see the Packers winning this game because of the “desperate” mentality and the so-called “short week” for the Texans, but for me it comes down to who is playing better football right now. And that is without a doubt the Texans who have absolutely demolished anyone they’ve hosted a Reliant Stadium this season (outscored the Dolphins and Titans 68-24). A banged up Greg Jennings (out with groin injury) and Jermichael Finley (questionable with shoulder) certainly doesn’t help the Packers who need all the help they can. It also remains to be seen whether the no-name trio of Alex Green, James Starks and Brandon Saine can breathe any life into the Packers running game. The Texans have more healthy weapons and a better chance to win the game.
TV Coverage: NBC’s Sunday Night Football with Al Michaels (play-by-play), Chris Collinsworth (color) and Michele Tafoya on the sidelines.
Betting Lines: Texans favored by 3.5 with over/under set at 47.5 points.
2012 Record straight up: 2-3
2012 Record against the spread: 0-5
2012 Record in over/under: 4-1
Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers. He also enjoys to share Fantasy Advice and pretend to be a Golf expert from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best. If social media is not your thing, shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Rodgers and Arian Foster (nbcsports.msnbc.com)
J.J. Watt (host.madison.com)Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks