Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs: Houston to challenge champions in season opener

Texans Celebrate
The Texans led against the Chiefs in January's playoff clash and can give the home team a test on Thursday night
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They met in the playoffs last season in a classic confrontation - or half one, anyway - but Mark Kirwan says the Texans can play the Super Bowl winners closer on Thursday night...

"He also has the gifted Deshaun Watson as his quarterback, and though the 24-year-old has lost his number one receiver, he does have the speedy Brandin Cooks, a fit Will Fuller and useful slot operator Randall Cobb to aim for still."

Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs
Friday, 01:20
Live on Sky Sports NFL

Texan Turbulence

Arrowhead Stadium was the scene of a spectacular clash between these two teams that ended the Texans season last January in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and launched KC on their path to Super Bowl glory.

Houston led their more-fancied rivals by three touchdowns after the first quarter of that game but were swiftly knocked out in the following 15 minutes as the Chiefs, somehow, went 28-24 ahead before half-time, a lead they did not relinquish.

Eight months later, Coach Bill O'Brien's team are waking up from a football slumber at the same venue and likely wishing they could turn the clock back to that Sunday afternoon. Many of their fans are certainly doing the same, as it would undo the trade of their star wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, to the Arizona Cardinals this past offseason.

They got running back David Johnson and some picks in return, a decision that joins a series of curious personnel moves by O'Brien - he doubles as the team's general manager and coach. The divisive play-caller can point to his record of leading this team to the playoffs in four-of-six seasons.

He also has the gifted Deshaun Watson as his quarterback, and though the 24-year-old has lost his number one receiver, he does have the speedy Brandin Cooks, a fit Will Fuller and useful slot operator Randall Cobb to aim for still.

If newly-arrived David can combine with Duke Johnson as a one-two punch out of the backfield, the Texans should still expect to challenge for the AFC South despite doubts about the man in charge.

Champions Homecoming

There's not been quite as much drama for the Chiefs.

They've largely kept their devastating offence together, with Mahomes spoilt for choice at receiver once again.

Super Bowl hero Damien Williams is one name absent due to a Covid-19 exemption, but they may have a more potent weapon to replace him in rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

The running back is expected to bring even more dynamic playmaking ability to an offence that already has Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman as well as Mahomes in the line-up.

On defence, they secured defensive tackle Chris Jones with a new contract, and Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill lead the secondary, but their linebackers remain a dubious proposition - Coach Andy Reid simply plans to score so fast it won't really matter what the other team does.

And it did work last season, so why not again?

The Picks

We can probably assume that there'll be a thicker layer of rust than usual as a result of no preseason games - they were all cancelled due to Covid-19. That doesn't favour passing offence, which relies on timing, precision and coordination between players to a greater extent than running the ball.

Additionally, we should expect the Texans to try out their new running-back. Johnson looked a star early in his career but his last two seasons have seen mediocre returns. Coach O'Brien hopes he can break plays again. Houstonwere also a relatively run-heavy offence last season, so I'd expect them to veer further in that direction following Hopkins' departure.

Their gameplan for Thursday should be built around limiting Mahomes' time on the field too, and running the ball helps with that. If they can grind it along the ground, it should keep the game closer than the 9.5 spread being offered on the Exchange at [1.91].

It follows that you should look at the Under on the Total Points line of 54.5 at [1.97] for similar reasons. Yes, these two put up over 80 points in that January game, but the circumstances don't bear comparison. Houston won here last season in the regular season by dominating the ball and their chances of doing so again are helped by the limitations of a post-COVID NFL season.

For a TD interest, there is some value in Darrel Williams, simply because of the hype around his colleague in the Kansas backfield, Edwards-Helaire. Williams had four TDs in the Chiefs crowded running back committee last season, but he's the clear second option behind the rookie now. He will have opportunities on Thursday. At 13/5 anytime, he's a decent option, and is available at 16/1 for the first score too.

Mark Kirwan,

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