After five weeks of featuring some of the worst teams in football, Amazon's Thursday night game turned a corner with the Ravens' 27-22 win over Tampa Bay. Despite Tom Brady's Bucs taking a step back this season, getting a competitive matchup with two solid teams was a nice change. Unfortunately, it's unlikely we'll see the same level of competitiveness this week, but we do get the chance to see the NFL's only unbeaten team look to continue its streak.
The Philadelphia Eagles (7-0) are 13.5-point road favorites against the Houston Texans (1-5-1). The Buffalo Bills are the only team that closed as a two-touchdown favorite this season, and they covered easily as they steamrolled the Steelers, 38-3. Will Houston suffer the same fate at the hands of Philly's explosive offense? As a rule of thumb, bettors need to be very particular about the spots they lay road chalk this heavy. However, after vetting this one, I still landed on the Eagles to cover the number.
If Houston is going to stay within the number, it must find a way to score points. But, unfortunately, that's where the problems start for the Texans. Philadelphia is fourth in the league in scoring defense, allowing only 16.9 points per game. There may be an opportunity to get the running game going with the Eagles losing DT Jordan Davis. Still, Philadelphia's strong secondary gives them the flexibility to stack the box if necessary. Based on PFF's coverage grades, the Eagles' cornerback tandem of Darius Slay and James Bradberry each rank in the top 10 in the league. That's going to put a massive strain on a Texans offensive line that allowed three sacks and eight tackles for loss last week against the Titans.
The Eagles average 28 points per game and have scored at least 24 points in six of the seven games they've played this year. And now they are up against a Houston defense that ranks 28th in EPA per play allowed and gives up explosive plays at a higher clip than any other team.
On paper, this is an incredibly favorable matchup for Philadelphia. In the last two weeks, the Texans got bulldozed by the Titans for 314 yards on the ground and allowed Las Vegas to hang its highest point total of the year in a 38-20 loss. The Raiders, a mediocre 16th in EPA per play on offense, ranked third-best the week they faced Houston. The Houston defense doesn't have the horses to slow down Philadelphia's offensive arsenal. I see Jalen Hurts' offense scoring in the 30-35 range, forcing the Texans to get closer to 17 to cover this number. Philadelphia, Tennessee and Denver rank in the top three in defensive success rate, and Houston scored 9 and 10 points against the Broncos and Titans. I am betting we see a similar output, making this an easy cover for the Eagles.
Should we ride the Eagles' first-half success?
The Eagles are a perfect 7-0 to the first-half spread this season. The engine behind their success is their ability to dominate in the second quarter, a spot where they have outscored their opponents by 13.7 points per game this season. Of course, it's in my blood to ride streaks until they stop paying out, but I will admit I am more comfortable playing the full-game spread rather than the first half.
If you subscribe to the theory that traveling on a short week could impact the Eagles, it's more likely to show up as early game rust. In the first quarter, the Texans defense has been solid, allowing only 38.9% success rate to opposing offenses. Plus, Houston is truly playing with nothing to lose as massive underdogs. Teams playing with house money are more likely to take shots and possibly try trick plays to get momentum in front of the home crowd. Those plays tend to happen early in the game, but that's more speculation than anything else.
The data points to another Philly first-half cover, so I can't argue with anyone using this approach to shorten the line. However, the massive talent gap between the two teams is more likely to show over all four quarters. I'd rather lay -13.5 than be on the wrong side of the key number at -7.5 for the first half.
Stats provided by Clevanalytics.com, pff, rbsdm (based on90-10 WP), teamrankings.com