8:30 PM EST, NBC – Line: Chiefs -1, Over/Under: 45
The hottest team in the league looks to remain unbeaten as the Kansas City Chiefs bring their unblemished record into NRG Stadium to battle the Houston Texans in a meeting of division leaders. With four weeks in the books, the Chiefs (4-0, 1st in AFC West) are the only team in the league that can boast having a perfect record, despite somehow perpetually flying under the radar. But then again, that’s been Andy Reid’s way since taking over five years ago, leading his charges to a stellar 47-21 mark (.691), including three Playoff Appearances and a Division Title in 2016. For all the talk of this group being persistently boring or conservative, Kansas City has been doing everything in their power to dispel those notions, even though we here think it would be far more appropriate to substitute those adjectives with something like efficient and effective. Don’t look now, folks, but an Offense crafted by Reid and piloted by Alex Smith (76.0%, 266.8 Y/G, 7.06 NY/A, 8 TD, 0 INT) actually ranks in not just the NFL’s Top-Five, but in their Top-Two; the Chiefs have averaged 30.5 Points per Game (2nd Overall) on a whopping 430.3 Total Yards (2nd Overall) through the first four games of the campaign, thanks in large part to the league’s most explosive rushing attack. However, don’t be confused with this being one of those teams that steadily racks up rushing yards by handing the ball off thirty to forty times a game, no. These Chiefs have managed to trample their opponents for 163.5 Yards per Game (1st Overall) on just 25.5 Carries (21st Overall), leading to a staggering 6.4 Yards per Carry (1st Overall). Unheralded Rookie Tailback Kareem Hunt, has been a revelation out of the Backfield, brining not just an explosive ability, but a great degree of versatility to the position, rushing for a league-best 502 Yards on just sixty-eight Carries, all the while averaging a ridiculous 7.4 Yards per Carry. With that said, the Third Round Pick out of Toledo is no one-trick pony, also managing to haul in thirteen Receptions for 157 Yards, as Reid has utilized him as a Receiver in many packages. His 246 Total Yards in the Season Opener at New England was eye-opening, with the fact that he’s managed to keep his form in recent weeks against the likes of the Chargers (172 Rushing Yards) and Redskins (101 Rushing Yards) all the more satisfying for the Chiefs’ faithful, not to mention the aforementioned Smith. Not that we need to harp on it, but having the league’s top-ranked rushing attack to lean on is quite the luxury for a Quarterback, particularly for a twelfth-year veteran whose been labeled as a Game Manager for his entire career, and is also in contract season, all the while having to fend off a Rookie Quarterback that Management traded up to select in the First Round. However, in watching Smith operate, you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence that he’s been pressing over any of these circumstances, for all things considered he’s in the midst of a career year. The 33-year old has thus far posted career-highs in Completion Percentage (76.0%), Touchdown Percentage (6.6%), Yards per Game (266.8), Net Yards per Attempt (7.06) and Passer Rating (124.2), while engineering three Game-Winning Drives, which happens to lead the entire NFL. He is listed as Probable heading into tonight’s clash with the Texans, nursing a sprained ankle he picked up in Kansas City’s 29-20 victory over Washington last Monday Night. Smith has also become quite familiar with tonight’s opponent, for during the Regular Season he has tested his mettle against them six times, including four times in the past four years (and once in the Playoffs), owning a 4-2 record against them, completing 61.9% of his Passes for an average of 206.8 Yards, with eight Touchdowns and four Interceptions, while rushing for another seventy-one Yards and a score on twenty-three Carries.
Meanwhile, the future is now for the Texans (2-2, 1st in AFC South), who made the courageous (though at the time unpopular) decision of benching incumbent Starting Quarterback Tom Savage in favor of Rookie Deshaun Watson, whom they traded several spaces up in the First Round of the Draft to select. Now we’ve gone on and on in the past about this franchise’s propensity for fielding a platoon of average (and at times extremely poor) Quarterbacks to varying degrees of success, so it’s only fair that Bill O’Brien and his charges be given the opportunity to develop a legitimate prospect with a high ceiling, which is apparently what they have in the form of the decorated signal-caller from Clemson. Though he’s certainly experienced his ups and downs since taking over midway through the Season Opener, Watson has visibly grown more confident and comfortable in the Offense as the season has progressed, completing 64.9% of his Passes for an average of 202.8 Yards on 6.06 Net Yards per Attempt, with seven Touchdowns and four Interceptions. Furthermore, his ability make plays outside of the Pocket with his legs (19 CAR, 148 YDS, 2 TD) has unlocked a whole new dimension to this Offense, which two weeks ago nearly toppled the reigning Super Bowl Champion Patriots in Foxborough, and hung a franchise record fifty-seven points on the Tennessee Titans in last weekend’s debacle. Going to-to-toe with Tom Brady is always impressive for a Rookie Quarterback, as No. 4 completed 22-of-33 Attempts for 301 Yards, with a pair of Touchdowns and Interceptions, while rushing for forty-one Yards on eight Carries in the 36-33 defeat, but his evisceration of division rival Tennessee was truly something to behold; the youngster became the first Rookie Quarterback to throw for four Touchdowns and rush for another, as he deftly connected on 25-of-34 Passes for 283 Yards in the 57-14 romp. Whereas last year’s Offense was plagued by Brock Osweiler’s inaccuracy and turnovers, this kid has entered like a breath of fresh air, particularly for Pro Bowl Wideout DeAndre Hopkins, who despite ultimately proving unable to develop the proper rapport with Osweiler, has developed excellent chemistry with the Rookie, reeling in thirty-one Receptions on forty-nine Targets for 311 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns. Watson’s emergence should also provide a much-needed boost for the Defense, at least in the manner that they shouldn’t be on the field nearly as much as they were in 2016. Granted, JJ Watt (13 TKL, 2 PD), Whitney Mercilus (10 TKL, 1.0 SK, 1 FF), and Jadeveon Clowney (13 TKL, 3.0 SK, 1 FF, 3 FR, 1 TD) comprise one of the better Defenses in the NFL, but just imagine how much better they’d be benefitting from a little rest? Watson’s threat with his legs has helped propel the Texans to the fifth-most prolific rushing attack in the league at 139.8 Yards per Game, which in turn chews up the clock and keeps the Defense rested on the sideline, creating an example of less being more for Watt and Co. Look no further than how they completely snuffed out Tennessee, as O’Brien charges held the visitors to just nine First Downs and 195 Total Yards, while amassing five Takeaways, and knocking opposing Quarterback Marcus Mariota out of the game to boot.