Romilly Evans reckons the Texans can take swift revenge on the Jags and turn the tables in tonight's live game
"Houston's JJ Watt leads not only the line but also the league in defensive duties"
Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Kick-off: Friday 01:25
TV: Live on Sky Sports 1
This year the NFL finally ushered in the "flexible scheduling" policy which has served other sports well for years. However, we have quickly arrived at the limits of such flexibility with tonight's live late offering: Houston Texans at the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Less prime-time and more snore-time, this is a bargain-basement battle at a time when a plethora of closely matched teams are still in play-off contention throughout the league.
Nevertheless, while the Texans (2-10) and the Jaguars (3-9) would like to wave the magician's wand over their seasons and pull the 2014 schedule out of a hat, both still have something to play for this term: the first pick in next year's draft (more commonly referred to as Louisville quarterback and Heisman Trophy lock, Teddy Bridgewater).
Of the disastrous duo, the Texans' campaign has definitely been the winner in living down to expectations. Having prevailed in their opening two games, these recent post-season perennials have since fallen to 10 straight defeats. Much of that can be attributed to some key injuries (embodied by the latter-day back injury to star RB Ariane Foster to a back injury for 2013) and unforeseen off-the field distractions (which have conspired to uncouple both QB Matt Scaub and DE Antonio Smith from their natural abilities).
Schaub certainly hastened the team's downfall (four consecutive matches with an interception returned for a touchdown), but coach Gary Kubiak has at least uncovered a promising replacement with 25-year-old Case Keenum. Successive losses invariably do little to bolster confidence, but there has been an undeniable progression to Keenum's game ever since he was strapped into the hot seat.
That development reached a new high against the New England Patriots last week, where the Texans wound up a fag paper shy of upsetting one of the leading candidates for Super Bowl glory (going down 31-34). Despite roaring out to a big first-half lead, they eventually succumbed to Tom Brady's old trick of Guess To Whom I'm Going where it appears even the touchline ice bucket is active as a receiver.
Asked to defend the entire field, Houston understandably came up short. Yet Keenum still managed to impress, although his completion record (54.2%) is palpably not up to scratch. What Keenum does well, however, is protect the ball (just three picks in 190 attempts leads the AFC for minimalizing mistakes) and offer some deep downfield possibilities (19 of his 103 connections have gone for 25 yards or more).
A fortnight is a long time for a rookie learning in the NFL, and Keenum is not the same quarterback that proved so ineffective against the Jaguars in late November. Both Keenum and his defense will be better prepared for the Jacksonville pass rush which destabilized them then.
Not that the Jags have been doing much wrong of late. An upset of the Cleveland Browns on Sunday lifted their winning streak to two games - yes, in the US, streaks start at two. But more impressively, that victory was the third in four from a side which many commentators predicted wouldn't register a "W" this year. Maurice Jones Drew is returning to form (TDs and 161 yards in his last couple of outings), while receiver Cecil Shorts is proving a pleasant surprise on the flat plain of gritty roster reality.
The suspicion persists, though, that the Jags would be heavy underdogs on a man-to-man handicapping system here. Houston still have Andre Johnson in fine fettle (averaging over 93 receiving yards per game), while JJ Watt leads not only the line but also the league in defensive duties (38 QB hits and 51 total tackles). Their respective records again Jacksonville are also impressive.
So while the Jaguars tore up the pages of the formbook last time, expect the Texans to prove more than paper tigers this evening.
Back Houston Texans (-2.5) to win on the Moneyline @ 1.68/13 or better
Back Houston Texans (-2.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.758/11 or better
Back Houston Texans (-1.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.824/5 or better
Back A.Johnson to score First Touchdown @ 7.613/2 or better