After scoring 28 points against the vaunted defense of the Patriots, the Texans have been installed as 9.0 point favorites against the visiting Broncos, with a somewhat aggressive Vegas-implied team total of 25.75, against a Broncos team that has allowed the ninth fewest points per game, and that ranks sixth in opponent drive success rate and first in opponent red zone touchdown rate. Only four teams have allowed fewer fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, and only four teams have allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers. Only two running backs have topped 100 rushing yards in this matchup (and neither scored a touchdown), while only three pass catchers have topped 100 against the Broncos (with only two of these adding a touchdown). Through 12 games, only 10 really usable skill position stat lines have been produced against the Broncos. Honestly, this Vegas-implied total feels about right — but if we played out this slate a hundred times, those 26-point performances from the Texans (who have produced only three games this year of 300+ passing yards, with only eight total games of 100+ yards from an individual player) would come more from short fields and turnovers than from consistently dominant play. This doesn’t mean that production cannot show up for the Texans — who carry the fourth highest Vegas-implied team total on the slate — but it does mean that this production will be a bit bumpier than a 26-point total would typically give us, with touchdowns, broken plays, and “all at once” shots a better source for upside than smooth, consistent, volume-based production.
The good news, of course — if embracing some uncertainty to target the Texans — is that “bumpier” production has plenty of opportunity to show up for this squad that boasts Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills.
Hopkins has disappointed this year, but he does have eight or more targets in all but one game, and he has double-digit looks in five of his last seven outings. With a shortened-up aDOT (10.2) this year, Hopkins has topped 100 yards only three times, but he still has seven touchdowns, and only Darren Fells has more red zone targets on the team.
Fuller has gone for recent healthy target counts in “non New England” games of 7 // 6 // 16 // 9 // 11; and while he carries plenty of risk (his hamstrings are always a concern, and his downfield role leads to volatile production), he carries plenty of upside as well. He’s an ultra-low-floor, high-ceiling option.
Stills has zero red zone targets on the season and only two games north of five targets. He’s a “bet on big play” option who has proven to have ceiling, but who has no real floor.
This offense wraps up with two tight ends (Fells // Jordan Akins) and two running backs (Carlos Hyde // Duke Johnson) who join the “low floor, some ceiling” parade. Akins and Fells have almost no yardage upside in their roles, but Fells has been the featured red zone piece for this offense and has scored seven touchdowns on the year. Hyde is a better bet for touchdowns than for yardage, with his three strongest yardage games coming in soft matchups vs the Jags (twice) and the Chiefs; he’ll need a broken play to mix in for yardage. Duke Johnson has matched or out-snapped Hyde in all three games since the Texans’ bye, but has touch counts of only 8 // 6 // 14 in this stretch. He’s a “bet on big plays // touchdowns” option.
The Broncos come into this game with the fourth lowest Vegas-implied total on the slate, after Drew Lock averaged under five yards per pass attempt in his NFL debut last week, at home against the Chargers. We should expect the Broncos to enter this game trying to lean on the run while primarily attacking the short areas of the field through the air; though if the Texans are able to jump out to a two-score lead early, there is a chance that this offense could open up enough for quality production to emerge.
The best bet for quality production — by far — is Courtland Sutton, who has recent target counts of 8 // 6 // 8 // 9 // 8 // 5, with yardage totals in that stretch of 87 // 72 // 56 // 113 // 27 // 74. Sutton has been the central, schemed focus of this passing attack since before the Broncos shipped Emmanuel Sanders out of town, and he will do battle with a Houston pass defense that ranks 25th in DVOA and has allowed the following, lengthy list of notable pass catcher stat lines:
10-123-0 Michael Thomas
7-101-0 Ted Ginn
13-183-2 Keenan Allen
8-98-2 James White
Behind Sutton, we are getting unpredictable target volume spread around to Noah Fant (recent target counts of 4 // 10 // 5 // 3), Tim Patrick (DNP // 8 // 3 // 2), DaeSean Hamilton (0 // 0 // 1 // 3), and Jeff Heuerman (DNP // DNP // 0 // 5) — on an offense that is having a difficult time sustaining drives. Any of these players have a shot at producing some value at their low, low price tags; but they are also all priced low for a reason.
This low-scoring offense wraps up in the backfield, where Phillip Lindsay played fewer snaps than Royce Freeman last week but still maintained a significant edge in usage — with recent touch counts of 18 // 14 // 20, compared to 9 // 4 // 9 for his counterpart. Freeman is simply a “hope to trip into hidden upside” play. Lindsay is a “talent bet” on moderate volume, playing in a bad offense on the road against a mid-tier run defense.
JM’s Interpretation ::
It’s difficult to see any price-considered smashes coming out of the Texans in this spot — which, it should be noted, is the same thing I said in my Thanksgiving writeup of Kenny Golladay, with David Blough, against the Bears. Golladay proceeded to go 4-158-1 on only five targets — which is a perfect example of what you are likely looking to capture here: not something that’s necessarily bankable or predictable, but that can show up if some lower-percentage elements click correctly into place. To put that another way: the Texans at their prices carry a decent amount of “hoping for good things to happen,” but there is enough of a chance of these things happening that you aren’t drawing dead if you choose to go here in tournaments on an ugly slate like this.
The Broncos carry a low-scoring likelihood as an offense, making it tough to target truly slate-breaking scores from this squad. With that said, Sutton and Lindsay are both focal points for this team, which is enough to keep each in the discussion on an ugly week such. Sutton is the player I would gravitate toward with the Broncos likely chasing points (and with the Texans easier to attack through the air); but if Lindsay were to somehow pop in a couple touchdowns, he would emerge as a really nice piece as well.