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Under the Helmet Week 2: Pro Handicapper Previews Titans/Texans

Dave Michaels of SportsInformationTraders takes us inside this AFC South clash.

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Last Sunday, neither the Tennessee Titans nor the Houston Texans got their season off on the right cleat as both teams lost in Week 1 (to the Dolphins and Patriots, respectively).

It’s impossible both teams will lose this week as they play each other in Nashville on Sunday in an early-season AFC South match-up that may have playoff implications.

In addition to dropping their initial matchups last week, both teams also lost key players. For the Titans, pass-catching tight end Delanie Walker broke his leg and was lost for the year, while offensive tackle Taylor Lewan was also knocked out with a concussion and may be out this week.

Perhaps even more significant in terms of the Titans’ chances at victory this week was the injury quarterback Marcus Mariota sustained to the elbow on his throwing arm. Though he is fully expected to play against Houston, Mariota is now banged up and missing one of his top targets in Walker.

Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota is checked by staff after being injured during a play against the Miami Dolphins on September 9, 2018. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

On the Houston side, starting right tackle Seantrel Henderson went down with an ankle injury against the Patriots and wound up on injured reserve this week. With its offensive line already struggling in the game, Houston was forced to shift left tackle Julie’n Davenport to the right side and insert rookie Martinas Rankin in his place. That alignment is expected to be the same this week—and remains a concern.

In addition to having to start a rookie on QB Deshaun Watson’s blind side, the Texans’ o-line situation raises red flags because the second-year Watson is coming off a torn ACL and is not moving quite as well inside or out of the pocket as he did last season or while in college at Clemson.

At least that’s how handicapper Dave Michaels of SportsInformationTraders sees it.

“Deshaun Watson was shaky at best in his first game back from last season’s torn ACL,” Michaels told RealClearLife. “In all fairness, he didn’t get much help at all from his [offensive] line, as he was constantly chased out of the pocket by New England. But this is certainly an easier opponent (and an easier defensive line) than the one he faced last week.”

Patriots defensive lineman Malcolm Brown tackles Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on the Houston nine yard line, forcing him to throw the ball away, during Week 1 of the NFL season. (Photo credit: Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Perhaps the struggles of Tennessee’s defensive line and the problems of Houston’s offensive front will offset one another, in which case the game may be settled by other factors like overall talent, home-field advantage, and experience.

And, even though it seems counterintuitive given the bevy of big names (J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, Jadeveon Clowney) on Houston’s side, roster factors may work in Tennessee’s favor, thanks to first-year Titans coach Mike Vrabel—who was with the Texans last year—and his deeper bench of quality players.

“Vrabel is obviously familiar with the Texans personnel, and in this case he simply has the better roster in Tennessee,” Michaels said. “These two teams split their series last season, which each one winning their home game. I expect the Titans to extend the Texans’ eight-game road losing streak this week to nine. Getting two points at home, look for the Titans to squeak by at home in a fairly low-scoring game.”

In case you’re on the fence about picking the Titans at +2, Michaels’ pick last week of the Jaguars laying three despite being on the road in New York, was a good ‘un.

The Jags won 20-15, beating the spread by two points.