The Houston Texans open their defense of the AFC South title when they travel to face the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. New Orleans also has a division title to defend, having taken the NFC South last season, though the Saints probably have bigger goals on their minds.
New Orleans is considered one of the favorites for the NFC championship this season after it made hosted the conference title game a season ago only to lose to the Los Angeles Rams in overtime in a contest that was marred by a controversial no-call on an obvious pass interference penalty. Houston just wants to get off to a better start than it did in 2018, when it lost its first three regular-season contests.
The moneyline for this contest has the Houston Texans +250 and the New Orleans Saints -300. The Saints are favored by 6.5 points at home, while the over/under has been set at 52.5.
The Texans’ offseason was relatively quiet, though they changed that on cut day last weekend, making a number of trades, including dealing away former No. 1 overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney, to the Seahawks. Houston did pick up a couple of key pieces for its offense in deals that day, acquiring left tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills from the Dolphins. Both should benefit quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is coming off a season in which he threw for 4,165 yards and 26 touchdowns and played in all 16 games after missing nine contests as a rookie.
Defensively, though Clowney is gone, the Texans still have one of the most feared defensive players in the league in defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt, who had 16 sacks and seven forced fumbles, was also able to play all 16 games last season after managing to appear in only eight games total over the previous two seasons. Keeping Watt and Watson healthy is imperative for the Texans’ playoff hopes.
New Orleans didn’t make a lot of changes after tying the Rams for the best record in football a season ago and finishing with the third-most points in the league with 504. Drew Brees failed to reach 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his 13 seasons with the Saints, though to be fair, he was only eight yards short and played just 15 games. Brees did throw for 32 touchdowns and his five interceptions were his lowest total for a season since he played in only one game as a rookie in 2001.
Alvin Kamara will be leaned on more this season to power the New Orleans ground game after Mark Ingram moved on to the Ravens in the offseason. Last season, Kamara led the Saints in rushing with 883 yards and 14 touchdowns, though Ingram added 645 yards and six scores. Kamara will still be the main running back for New Orleans this season, but he will have Latavius Murray to spell him from time to time. Murray came to the Saints in the offseason after running for 578 yards for the Vikings in 2018.
Saints Win Opener
Houston is a dangerous offensive team, with Watson able to light up a scoreboard with receiving threats Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins both healthy. But the Saints have a lot of motivation, especially in their home opener, to try to put last season’s bitter end behind them. New Orleans has lost its last five season openers, but they won’t make it six in a row. I’m going with the Saints -6.5 to take this one.