The first Monday night game of the season figures to be a dandy between the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans. Kickoff is at 7:10 EST on Monday, September 9 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The game can be seen from coast to coast on ESPN.
The current betting odds list the Saints as 7-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is 53.5 points. Be sure to check out a full list of the Week 1 NFL odds.
It doesn’t get any more painful than the way the Saints saw their 2018 season end. New Orleans hosted the NFC Championship Game and looked poised to advance to the Super Bowl before a controversial pass interference call handed the Rams a lifeline. The NFL has altered the rules to make sure such a situation doesn’t happen again. But it’s not going to take back what happened and put the Saints in the Super Bowl.
New Orleans has no other choice but to put it behind them and start anew in 2019. The good news is that the Saints are once again among the favorites in the NFC. However, this season comes with the added pressure of likely being the last one for quarterback Drew Brees. That sets up the potential for a fairy tale ending, but it also means the team’s window for winning a championship is closing.
As for the Texans, they will be satisfied with how things unfolded last season. Houston took a step back in 2017 after Deshaun Watson suffered a season-ending injury. But in his first full season as a starter, Watson led the Texans to the AFC South title. Despite losing at home in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, it was a step in the right direction.
People tend to forget that Bill O’Brien and the Texans have won the AFC South in three of the last four seasons. With Andrew Luck retiring, it’s safe to say that Houston is once again the favorite to win a division title. That being said, the AFC South is perhaps the most balanced division in the NFL, making it important that the Texans get off to a good start.
I have no doubt that New Orleans is the better team, but I’m still going to lean toward the Texans. The Saints have been notoriously slow starters in recent years, losing last year’s opener to the Buccaneers and starting 2017 0-2 before turning things around. Meanwhile, the Texans won five of their last road games last season. I can’t ignore those trends or the fact that Houston has plenty of talent. I’ll lean toward the Texans to at least beat the spread.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Texans lost running back Lamar Miller to injury. But picking up Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde to replace him may actually be an upgrade in the backfield. Perhaps more importantly, Houston recently traded for left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The Texans had the worst offensive line in football last season, allowing Watson to be sacked 62 times. But trading for Tunsil and using a first-round pick on Tytus Howard will help immensely.
Based on what Watson was able to do last season, if the Texans give him a little more time in the pocket, there’s no telling what he can do. In addition to having DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, the Texans added Kenny Stills in the trade that also landed them Tunsil. That’s a ton of talent at wide receiver, especially for a quarterback like Watson who can use his legs to buy time and has the arm strength to take deep shots. To be fair, the New Orleans defense is poised to be one of the best in the league. But I can see the Saints struggling to stop Watson and his receivers, especially if the Houston offensive line holds up.
On the other side of the ball, I can see the New Orleans offense having some growing pains early in the year. The backfield tandem of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara is no longer together with Ingram going to Baltimore. Latavius Murray is a nice replacement, but it could be hard to replicate that Ingram-Kamara combination. I also think that New Orleans not having a second established wide receiver to complement Michael Thomas sometimes holds them back.
Of course, the Houston defense looks a little different than it did last year now that Jadeveon Clowney has been traded away. However, J.J. Watt is back to being himself after a couple of injury-plagued seasons. He sets up the rest of the defense that could be a little better than last season after a few additions to the secondary.
Again, a part of my pick is because the Saints have struggled early in the season the past few years. But I also think the Texans have a talented roster than can keep pace with New Orleans, even if Brees and company are at their best. Covering seven points, even at home, against a team that won its division last year, isn’t easy. That makes me feel good about leaning toward Houston.