The first "Three and Out" of 2015 last week was, uh, a wee bit off. Sadly, it's not even close to my worst effort, and I have zero shame when it comes to my prediction game, so I press on, undaunted. To paraphrase Bill O'Brien, I'm gonna let it rip and go make predictions about what'll happen when the Texans play the Panthers tomorrow.
1. This hardly qualifies as bold, considering how poor Brian Hoyer looked against the Chiefs, but the Texans' offense will fare markedly better with Ryan Mallett under center this week. I'm very concerned about the possibility of someone other than Duane Brown protecting Mallett's blind side, but Mallett's preternatural quick release should hopefully negate some of the pressure that'll surely be felt if Brown doesn't play. That's not to say that Mallett will be confused with Aaron Rodgers; he will have a misstep or two. But he's also going to make throws that Hoyer could never make. I'll peg Mallett's line on the day at 18-28 for 229 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT.
2. One of those TD passes will go to DeAndre Hopkins. The other one will go to J.J. Watt in a goal line package. Recall that Mallett and Watt have a bit of a history.
I also fully expect Houston's running game to struggle. In what may be his final start before Arian Foster returns, Alfred Blue will rush for 54 yards on 13 carries.
3. In limited action against the Chiefs and in his first game back from microfracture surgery, Jadeveon Clowney gave Texans fans reason to be bullish about his chances of being a factor in 2015. You'll be even more confident after his performance against the Panthers. I said it last week, and I was wrong, but I'm going back to the well: Clowney will notch his first sack in the NFL on Sunday. Cam Newton's gonna get Clowned.
He's also going to get sacked by J.J. Watt and Jared Crick.
PUT YOUR NAME ON IT: Both teams feature stout defenses (though the absence of Luke Kuechly cannot be understated), and both teams have offenses that leave something to be desired. I believe the Panthers will run the ball better than the Texans will. I believe the Texans will move the ball in the air better than Carolina will, mostly on the basis of a couple of big plays down the field on the strength of Mallett's arm and Carolina's paucity of wide receiving talent with Kelvin Benjamin gone (though Greg Olsen is gonna get his). It's going to be close, and I think it'll be anybody's game late in the fourth quarter. Give me the Texans. Barely. Texans 21, Panthers 20.
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