8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Broncos -9, Over/Under: 41
Revenge games were all the rage this week in the NFL, so what better way to end Week Seven than with a polarizing Quarterback returning to his old stomping grounds? That’s precisely the situation in Denver, as the defending Super Bowl Champions host the Houston Texans, led by Brock Osweiler, who (at the very least) played a moderate role on their way to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Call it the Brock Bowl or Osweiler’s Revenge, all eyes will be on No. 17 tonight. After crashing and burning in the dreadful fashion during the Playoffs last year, Houston (4-2, 1st in AFC South) opened up their checkbook and lured Osweiler away from Denver, who the young Signal Caller had been in a negotiations stalemate with for weeks. The bottom line was that the 26-year old felt he was the future of the organization, and therefore wanted to be paid like it, though the Broncos’ Front Office had a very clear ceiling in regards to his worth. Fast forward eight months and it’s difficult to say that the Texans made the right decision in signing Osweiler to a four-year, lucrative $72 million contract ($37 million guaranteed); The towering 6-7 gunslinger hasn’t necessarily been the steady hand that this franchise needed when they said goodbye to Brian Hoyer after last year’s 30-0 embarrassment on Wild Card Weekend, completing 59.0% of his passes for an average of 233.7 yards per game on just 5.44 net yards per attempt, while tossing as many touchdowns (eight) as interceptions, logging an average QBR of 50.0 in the process. Basically, while this kid may think he’s Peyton Manning in his prime, and Bill O’Brien and Co. may try to utilize him like he’s a future Hall of Famer, it’s become painfully obvious that the hype around him simply doesn’t matchup with the on-field results. After all, the offense has been rather dismal under his lead; Houston has averaged a scant 18.0 points (30th Overall) on 344.9 total yards (27th Overall), including 233.7 through the air (30th Overall) on 5.4 net yards per attempt (30th Overall), and 111.2 on the ground (10th Overall) on 4.1 yards per carry (16th Overall), while committing ten turnovers in six contests (22nd Overall). Those are some pretty damning numbers folks, particularly when you consider how much worse they are from when the aforementioned Hoyer (and three other Quarterbacks) piloted this unit a year ago; in 2015 the Texans averaged 21.2 points (21st Overall) on 363.1 total yards (19th Overall). With that said, this appears to be a rather easy fix, for Houston can correct these issues by simply going back to last year’s incarnation for inspiration; O’Brien needs to stop overthinking things and get his team back to playing complementary football, instead of placing everything on his Quarterback’s shoulders, which means turning to his OTHER major acquisition, Lamar Miller. The explosive Tailback was criminally underutilized in Miami, and was expected to be the Texans’ bell-cow in 2016, replacing the franchise’s all-time leading rusher Arian Foster. the 25-year old has rushed for 520 yards on 4.2 yards per carry, while flashing his pass-catching skills with seventeen receptions for 111 yards. Perhaps O’Brien has finally come to the revelation of giving this kid the ball more, for that certainly seemed to be the case during last weekend’s 26-23 Overtime victory against division foe Indianapolis. Trailing the Colts by ten points at Halftime, the hosts stormed back in the final stanza, scoring the game’s final seventeen points, concluding with Nick Novak’s 33-yard game-winning Field Goal. The win had the looks of a major turning point for the offense, as Miller keyed the comeback with a season-best 178 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, his first scores since signing back in the Spring. The healthy return of perennial Pro Bowl Left Tackle Duane Brown certainly helped matters, and if this Coaching Staff is smart (and we believe they are), they’ll continue to ride their emerging ground game, which will in turn lead to a far more efficient offense. And keep this last bit of information in mind, folks, for as great as Denver has been defensively, they’ve shown many cracks in the armor when it’s come to slowing the run; the Broncos have allowed 112.7 rushing yards (22nd Overall) on 4.0 yards per carry (16th Overall).
Meanwhile, though it may be too early to ascertain whether or not Houston is feeling Buyer’s Remorse in regards to Osweiler, it has become quite clear that the Broncos (4-2, T-1st in AFC West) are just fine without him. Many scoffed at the idea that the reigning champs could replace an aging Peyton Manning with a young neophyte like Trevor Siemian, but at the midway point of the season, it looks as if Denver will be even BETTER for it. As unheralded as they come at Quarterback, the former Seventh Rounder has outperformed expectations, even if he’s in a glorified Game Manager role. Granted, Gary Kubiak has long been adept at crafting a scheme to simplify things for his passers, and with that vaunted Defense at his back, the Northwestern Graduate has enjoyed a good deal of support. With that said, we’d be remiss if we didn’t show him some love; quite frankly, Siemian’s Stat Line blows Osweiler’s away, as the Sophomore has completed a healthy 64.9% of his attempts for an average of 210.8 yards per game on 6.19 net yards per attempt, tossing seven touchdowns to three interceptions, with an above average QBR of 55.2 despite missing a game with a shoulder injury. However, Kubiak and his Staff would be wise not to make the same mistake that his counterparts have in misevaluating their Quarterback’s role in the Offense, for Denver has become far too one-dimensional in recent weeks. After averaging 141 yards per game on the ground through the first two games, the Broncos have only been able to muster 77.3 over the four outings that followed, in which they’ve coincidentally gone 2-2. This was the case ten days ago in their surprising 21-13 loss at San Diego, where they were unable to reach the End Zone until their was 8:08 remaining in the game. In his first game back since spraining his shoulder, Siemian attempted a whopping FIFTY passes (completed thirty) for 230 yards and a touchdown, while sustaining a pair of sacks. The visiting side struggled to move the ball all day, converting on just six of their fifteen Third Downs, while coming up with goose eggs on their only Fourth Down try. Sooner or later these teams will learn that the moral of the story here, folks, is DO NOT ASK YOUR QUARTERBACK TO DO TOO MUCH!!!! Fortunately for Kubiak, he can get away ignoring that lesson from time to time due to the presence of his Defense, which is almost as intimidating as it was during last year’s run to the Super Bowl. Through six games, Denver has yielded just 18.0 points per game (8th Overall) on 295.0 total yards (4th Overall), including a league-best 182.3 versus the pass (1st Overall) on 5.0 net yards per attempt (2nd Overall). Though we detailed their struggles in stopping the run, their ability to put their opponents into long down and distance via their Pass Rush cannot be ignored; the Broncos have amassed twenty-one Sacks thus far (1st Overall), with reigning Super Bowl MVP Von Miller accounting for seven of that total. Osweiler’s protection and pocket presence has been sketchy this season (twelve Sacks allowed), and with the added incentive of facing an old teammate, you can bet that these guys are going to be drooling for the opportunity to put him in the dirt.
Predicted Outcome: Broncos 23, Texans 20