Bragging rights in the Lone Star State will be on the line Sunday night as the Houston Texans host the Dallas Cowboys. Kickoff is set for 8:20 EST on Sunday, September 7, at NRG Stadium in Houston. The game will be broadcast nationally on NBC.
This week’s NFL betting odds list the Texans as 3.5-point favorites at home. That line has been pushed up from earlier in the week when Houston was a 3-point favorite. The over/under for the game is set at 45 points.
Despite some uneven performances and frustrating losses, the Cowboys are 2-2 heading into October. They nearly let a 10-point lead disappear in the 4th quarter last week against the Lions. However, the Cowboys were able to respond with a last-second field goal to steal a much-needed win.
That win puts the Cowboys just half a game off the pace in the NFC East heading into Week 5. Dallas has no doubt been limited offensively early in the season. But between their defense and running game, they may have enough to stay in the playoff hunt long-term. However, they have to prove that they can win on the road, and they have an opportunity to do just that this week against the Texans.
Houston finally scored their first win of the season last week to avoid a 0-4 start. The Texans were a little fortunate after blowing an 18-point lead and then giving up a field goal on the first drive of overtime. But their defense came up with a big stop on a questionable 4th down call, enabling the Texans to kick the game-winning field goal.
To be fair, all of Houston’s losses this year have come by a touchdown or less. The Texans have also played three of their first four games on the road. They’ve been competitive in their losses and now their schedule will start to ease up a little in October. If they can beat the Cowboys, the Texans may have a chance to build some momentum and crawl back into contention inside the AFC South.
Since the Texans became an expansion franchise, this is just the fifth time these two teams have met in the regular season. They are frequent opponents in the preseason, including a 14-6 Texans win this year. However, this will be their first meaningful game since 2014. For what it’s worth, the Cowboys have won three of the four games between these teams that have mattered.
I don’t think the Cowboys are going to win this game on the road, but I’m also not confident enough in the Texans to cover. With the line more than a field goal, I’ll split the difference and lean toward Dallas to beat the spread, even if they don’t win the game.
Obviously, the Dallas offense is a notable concern, especially away from home. In their two road games this year, Dallas has scored a total of 21 points. If they keep up that pace against the Texans, they’ll have a lot of trouble keeping the game close and beating the spread. However, the Cowboys have the league’s leading rusher in Ezekiel Elliott. Even against a Houston defense that has played well against the run this year, the running game should translate on the road and provide a stable foundation for the Dallas offense.
The bigger question is whether or not Prescott can throw the ball well enough to give the Cowboys some balance offensively. Prescott has been inconsistent at best as a passer this season. However, he’s played some good defensive teams and done an okay job of avoiding turnovers. He’s also coming off his best game of the season, so perhaps he can keep it going against a defense that’s been vulnerable against the pass this year.
Of course, the biggest key to this game for the Cowboys is their defense being able to limit Deshaun Watson and the Houston offense to a reasonable point total. Watson has slowly come along this season, which was to be expected less than a year removed from knee surgery. While the Texans have big-play ability, there have been games this season in which they only score after falling behind. Watson is also turning the ball over a little too much, throwing an interception in all four games.
Meanwhile, the Dallas defense is giving up less than 20 points per game and has been able to keep them in games this year. They’ll be without Sean Lee this week, which is a concern after his absence was obvious last week against the Lions. However, the Texans have been slowed this season by quality defenses, so I’m expecting the Dallas defense to do enough to avoid getting drawn into a shootout, which they would surely lose.
Ultimately, both teams have enough flaws to prevent either from winning by a comfortable margin. The Cowboys struggling on the road worries me a little that the Texans may be able to pull away at the end. However, I’ll take my chances with the Cowboys doing enough to make this a field goal game, which means Dallas and the points is the smart play.