Wild Card Weekend Playoff Preview: Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans Betting Advice
Published on January 06, 2017
Who: Oakland Raiders (12–4) vs. Houston Texans (9–7)
Where: NRG Stadium. Houston, Texas
When: Saturday, January 7, 2017. 4:35 PM (EST)
The Oakland Raiders come to Texas on Saturday to kick off the 2016/17 NFL Playoffs with their game against the Houston Texans. In some ways, this game represents several of the great tragic storylines of the 2016/17 season.
To explain what we mean, imagine the following scenario: It’s August of 2016, during the NFL preseason. No regular season games have been played, and the season is shrouded in uncertainty. By some supernatural occurrence, you are told with 100% certainty that the Oakland Raiders are going to play the Houston Texans in the playoffs.
If you truly believed that this were going to happen, then it’s likely that you would have been forced to believe three things: 1) That Derek Carr was going to lead the Raiders into an exciting renaissance of the Oakland franchise. 2) That Brock Osweiler would prove to be worth the $72 million the Texans signed him for. And 3) That the matchup between these two quarterbacks would be an exciting one, to be looked forward to with great anticipation.
This is why we say that this matchup pitting the Raiders against the Texans is tragic. On the side of Oakland, while Derek Carr and the Raider renaissance has certainly been very exciting to watch throughout the season, not only did the broken leg Carr suffered in Week 16 effectively snuff out the fire that was the Raiders’ postseason dreams, but the shoulder injury to backup Matt McGloin fully extinguished any remaining smoldering embers.
Furthermore, on the side of Houston, we’d say it’s even a tragedy that the Texans had the opportunity to make the playoffs. The AFC South was one of the most unwatchable divisions in all of football throughout the season, and we would have much rather seen an additional NFC East or AFC West team in the playoffs than have to sit through a game (or two!) with the Houston Texans.
Because despite the fact that the Texans somehow made the playoffs, the fact remains that Brock Osweiler had a historically bad season, and was benched halfway through the game in Week 14 in the ultimate vote of no confidence. The only reason he has been named the starter once again for this Wild Card matchup is the fact that backup Tom Savage is in the concussion protocol.
So herein lies the tragedy: Instead of an exciting matchup between top QBs Derek Carr and Brock Osweiler, we are instead forced to watch an ugly, ugly game between a rookie third-string quarterback and a previously benched starter after one of the worst statistical seasons in decades.
But just because this game may not be the most enjoyable to watch doesn’t mean that there isn’t value to be found in the gambling odds of this matchup. Tragic or not, it’s nonetheless true that the playoffs are upon us, which means exciting football on TV and manifold opportunities for gamblers.
Below we’ll take a look at all of the possible ways to bet on the Raiders/Texans game, including moneyline odds, betting against the spread, the total score bet, and any prop bets that might hold value.
When we pick NFL games straight up, our philosophy is to focus in on which team has the drive and determination to play a more complete game. We strongly believe that the team which maintains the will to win through all 60 minutes generally ends up on top when the final whistle blows.
During the regular season, (particularly in Week 16 and Week 17), the drive of a team to win the game can be influenced heavily by things like whether or not the team is playing for a spot in the postseason, or whether or not the team is playing against a division opponent or other hated rival.
In this case, as the Texans and Raiders are not division rivals and both teams either win or go home, we have to look elsewhere to determine which team will maintain the drive to win the game even when the chips are down and there is mid-game adversity.
This specific Wild Card matchup between the Texans and the Raiders is made even more difficult to pick for two additional reasons. One, the idea of home field advantage (which is generally stronger in the playoffs, as fans are more invested and there is more at stake) doesn’t actually help us pick a winner in this case, because the home team has very little home field advantage to speak of.
The Texans are a young franchise, and have played the fewest home games of any current NFL Franchise (save the L.A. Rams, who just translocated last season). They also have the 4th-lowest home win percentage of any team in the league since 1990, meaning that other teams are not at all afraid of going into Houston and beating the Texans on their home turf. The stadium is simply one of the quietest in the league.
Secondly, not only does home field advantage do little to help us determine which team will have the drive and the hunger to play a 60-minute game, but the fact that both starting quarterbacks inspire so little confidence makes it difficult to bank on either one to pull off a victory for their team.
Ultimately, we are choosing the Houston Texans to maintain heart and end up with the win for two reasons. One, because we have slightly more faith in the quarterback that has started 14 games vs. the quarterback who has started zero games this season. Two, because we trust Houston’s defense to maintain their level of effort throughout the entire course of the game more than we trust Oakland’s defense.
The Texans and the Raiders both have very stout defensive fronts, even in the absence of Houston’s star pass rusher J. J. Watt. The Raiders’ Kahlil Mack has proven himself to be a game-wrecker, and both of these teams have defenses that can greatly influence games and that are deserving of respect.
However, the statistics assembled from the 2016/17 season show very clearly that these two defenses differ widely in their ability to maintain their effort throughout the game. While Oakland and Houston are both ranked in the top five in the number of points they give up in the first quarter (Oakland being ranked 2nd, with an average of 2.7 points given up in the first quarter; Houston being ranked 4th, with an average of 3.4 points given up in the first quarter), when the second half rolls around it’s a different story.
Throughout the season Houston has somehow managed to give up an average of only 9.8 points in the second half (good for 8th best in the league, immediately behind New England, Seattle, and Denver), despite having such an ineffective offense that they cannot put points on the board of their own. Meanwhile, the Raiders in the 2016/17 regular season gave up an average of 13.4 points in the second half, good for 29th-worst in the league behind Cleveland and Jacksonville.
These statistics tell a pretty convincing story that the Oakland defense has been unable to keep up its play throughout the entire game, while Houston does find a way to play hard all the way to the final whistle.
For this reason, in a game where the offenses are both very much suspect, we believe that the game will be decided by which defense can get off the field in the fourth quarter and prevent the other team from holding the ball and scoring. We believe that the Texans will be the team that can accomplish this, and thus we are picking them to win the game.
So we have picked the Texans to ultimately come out on top in this matchup. But do we believe that they will win by more than 4 points, covering the spread? When deciding picks against the spread, in our experience we generally look at the offenses involved, and in particular if a team’s quarterback has what it takes to either keep a game close or to push the pedal to the floor and pile on points.
However, in this matchup it becomes very difficult to rely on either quarterback: Brock Osweiler has had such a historically terrible season that we wouldn’t trust him as far as we could throw him, and the Raiders will be down to either their second- or third-string quarterback.
Let’s first provide a brief update on the quarterback injury situations for both of these teams. In the case of the Texans, it’s pretty simple: Tom Savage is in the concussion protocol and has not been practicing at all this week, and so Brock Osweiler has officially been named the starter, even if Tom Savage were to be cleared in time for the game.
For the Raiders, things are not so certain. Matt McGloin has a shoulder injury that has kept him from taking significant practice reps, and so in all likelihood Connor Cook will get the start in Houston. The Raiders even went so far as to activate a practice squad quarterback to the active roster, demonstrating that they are not confident that McGloin could serve as a backup in the event that Cook leaves the game with injury.
So for our purposes in picking this game against the spread, we’ll proceed under the impression that Brock Osweiler will receive all of the offensive snaps for Houston, and rookie Connor Cook will receive all of the offensive snaps for Oakland.
This leaves us almost completely in the dark as far as which quarterback and which offense will have the edge. The Texans have one of the longest injury reports of any playoff team, but should get running back Lamar Miller back this week from injury. The Raiders list three wide receivers as dealing with injuries, giving Connor Cook little help.
And while it’s true that Brock Osweiler certainly has more game-time experience this season and should be much more well-acquainted with his offense than Connor Cook, it’s nonetheless true that Osweiler is coming off of a three-game stretch of being benched, and both of these quarterbacks have zero snaps of postseason experience.
We believe that all of this inexperience and lack of confidence amounts to a game that will include a lot of errant throws, a few interceptions, several frustrated looks as the quarterback walks off the field and the punt team walks on, and more field goals than offensive touchdowns.
While four points is a very well-set line for this game, we would nonetheless tentatively opt for a bet on the Raiders against the spread. We like this game to be decided by a field goal or less, and we also like the idea of hedging the moneyline bet on the Texans with an ATS bet on the Raiders.
So with our picks established that the Texans will win this game by less than four points at home, let’s now turn our attention to the total score bet, and specifically try to determine whether or not this game will have more or less than 37 total points scored.
Our philosophy for picking the over/under is generally to look at the defenses involved. Even in games (unlike this game) where there are potent offenses involved and where there’s a definite chance that one or both quarterbacks could put up serious numbers, if the defenses on the opposite side of the ball are capable of putting together stops and getting off the field on third down, the game is usually low-scoring.
In this case, it’s not so much the fact that the defenses match up well against the opposing offenses that is important, but rather the fact that the offenses are so bad that the defenses will be able to keep the game low-scoring without very much difficulty.
Specifically, we don’t believe that Connor Cook and the Raiders offense will be able to score more than one touchdown on offense. We believe that even if they get the ball in good field position due to a turnover or a special teams play, the Texans defense will be able to keep them from getting first downs and make them settle for a field goal.
On the other side of the ball, we would have given roughly the same message about the Raiders’ defense. However, there is one key difference between these two teams that should directly impact the total score bet in this matchup: penalties.
Specifically, in one of the most neat and tidy statistics you’ll ever see, these two teams are the farthest apart that you can be in terms of penalties enforced. The Raiders have had the greatest number of penalties accepted against them of any team in the league in 2016/17 (147 penalties enforced for a total of 1247 yards), whereas the Texans have had the least number of penalties accepted against them during that same stretch (87 penalties for 868 total yards).
What this indicates is that this Oakland Raiders team is young, inexperienced, and sloppy, whereas the Houston Texans are more well-coached and are able to rein in their emotions. In a game where everything is on the line, and in a game which is likely to spell the end of the magical run for the Oakland Raiders, this could have direct bearing on the total score.
Specifically, we believe that the Oakland Raiders’ will give up a few key defensive penalties that will serve to bail out or help out the floundering Texans offense, keeping a key drive or two alive and directly turning into points for the Texans. On the other side of the ball, we believe that the Raiders’ offensive penalties will further hamstring their ability to move the ball on offense, putting them in unfavorable down and distance.
In our assessment, with the game progressing in this way, we are allocating the Raiders one offense touchdown and one defensive touchdown (believing that Brock Osweiler will be good for a pick-6), plus a field goal. We’re also giving the Texans an offensive and defensive touchdown (believing the same about Connor Cook), but giving them the slightest edge with two field goals instead of one.
Unfortunately, however, we feel very confident that this will be the final score, and the total of 37 that it amounts to turns out to be the exact total score set by the odds-makers at the Bovada sportsbook. So in summary, we don’t like this game to go over or under the posted total score, and we’d advise staying away from the over/under betting in this matchup.
Now that we have our picks settled for how the game will turn out and now that we fully grasp how the game will unfold, let’s take a look at any of the individual prop bets that would give us an opportunity to invest in any of these storylines coming about as we predict.
First of all, though we probably don’t really need to say this, we don’t advise putting any money on either of these teams’ future bets. The Raiders and Texans both getting +2800 to win the AFC at the Bovada sportsbook, and are both getting +6600 to win the Super Bowl. While 28-to-1 and 66-to-1 are certainly enticing payouts, there’s absolutely no way that either of these teams beat the Patriots or the Chiefs, so definitely stay away from those bets.
As far as individual players to bet on, we would definitely avoid laying any money on offensive players, for either team. The only bets that you should place on individual offensive players are bets that both Connor Cook and Brock Osweiler will throw interceptions. If you can find positive odds for Brock Osweiler more than .5 interceptions or Connor Cook more than .5 interceptions, jump on them. We’d be less confident in more than 1 or more than 1.5 interception bets.
As for the defenses, we think that a bet on whether or not a defensive or special teams touchdown will be scored could potentially hold good value, if the odds are close to 2-to-1. We definitely think that either team could end up with a pick-6, as we mentioned above.
Additionally, if you can find positive odds for a margin of victory bet that has the Texans winning by between 1 and 6 points, there could definitely be good value there; this is one of our more confident picks as far as margin of victory.
And finally, this could be one of the few situations where we would recommend considering a “first score” bet. Generally, when two healthy teams play each other that are playing all of their regular starters, we feel that the games are too unpredictable to merit a confident choice that either a touchdown or a different scoring play will happen before any other scoring play.
However, with the offenses we see in this matchup, there could potentially be good value in a bet that a field goal or other type of scoring play will happen before we see an offensive touchdown, so consider investing in that.
In a tragically unfortunate game to watch, the Oakland Raiders are set to take on the Houston Texans for the first game of the 2016/17 NFL Playoffs. We believe that the Texans will end up winning this game by less than 4 points in a matchup that will feature sputtering offenses and lots of scoreless drives.
Here are the only two bets that we feel really confident in for this matchup: