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Three and Out: Panthers-Texans Predictions

The BRB staff predicts the outcome of the Thursday Night Football contest between the Houston Texans and the Carolina Panthers from NRG Stadium.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Texans had gone a long way to continue to prove they are a better team than I and most others gave them credit for, and then the inevitable Tyrod Taylor injury happened. After six surprising quarters of solid football, Davis Mills took over as Houston’s quarterback and will continue to take the starter snaps for at least a few weeks, it seems.

On Sunday, Houston dropped a 31-21 contest to the Browns but hung tough against a team that overwhelmingly beats them on paper and has more talent than perhaps any team Houston will face all season.

Now with Mills (who is decidedly NOT ready to be a starter in the NFL) under center, the Texans will turn around in four days and host a Thursday Night Football game against the Carolina Panthers on national television. It’s kind of too bad the Taylor-led version of the Texans will not be the team the rest of the country sees. Rather, it will presumably be an extremely safe and run-heavy offensive game plan against a Carolina defense that already has notched 10 sacks on the season.

Let’s get to it and see how the BRB staff feels about this one:

Chris: Panthers 27, Texans 13.

With a rookie QB who is clearly not ready to start in the NFL, a short turnaround from Sunday, and a Panthers defense that gets after the quarterback, I don’t have a lot of hope for this contest. Had the Texans not lost Tyrod Taylor to injury and continued to play well against the Browns, I’d be tempted to pick the Texans to win this one.

However, with Davis Mills as the starter, I won’t be picking the Texans to win anything until Mills shows me otherwise. It’s not really a knock on Mills - he’s not ready, but this is the path the Texans chose when they signed Taylor, who has a long injury history. This was inevitable. I just thought we’d get more than 1.5 games out of Taylor before his first injury stint. I do NOT think this Thursday game is going to be pretty for the Texans at all.

Mike: Panthers 31, Texans 17.

The first career start for a rookie QB dubbed a “project” who has to take the field unexpectedly doesn’t exactly fill the confidence tank for one. Davis Mills looked a bit lost last week, with terrible footwork (watch his feet as he fired his one and only touchdown pass), a lack of command of Houston’s offense, and poor accuracy. Now he has enough game film out there for the Panthers’ defensive coordinator and players to feast on.

A young QB’s best friend is a solid running game. Unfortunately, the Texans don’t have one of those, despite signing every running back available in free agency.

Sadly for Houston fans, the Panthers do have such a solid running game. Christian McCaffrey will score early and often. The wonderfulness of Tim Kelly’s offense won’t be evident as the Texans sink to 1-2 in the sort of game that will probably provide a preview for the rest of this season.

Matt Robinson: Panthers 34, Texans 13.

The praise heaped upon playcaller Tim Kelly and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton will truly be put to the test for what on paper proposes to be a dire situation. Davis Mills, even from the preseason let alone the second half of last week, was showing he would need more time to make adjustments to the speed and intensity that is NFL football. Based on what they’ve shown so far, I believe the Texans will be rational about how they choose their concepts and construct a game plan tailored around Mills’ current comfort level with the offense. However, the Carolina personnel on both sides of the ball present some pretty obvious mismatches that are difficult to simply ‘scheme around’.

What scares me the most is Mills’ rudimentary poise in the pocket, combined with him going against Baby Von Miller (Brian Burns) and a linebacker in Shaq Thompson who has been playing great lately. I can see some sneaky pressures leaking in to smother the rookie as he stares at Brandin Cooks downfield in ignorant bliss. The Saints, who while transitioning centers have a top five offensive line for that past five years it seems, got completely demolished by this Panthers front. The current Texans O-Line has shown some great flashes, but they are very clearly still getting their feet under them; even if they were to study New Orleans’ mistakes, I’m not confident they could effectively implement their game perfectly on such short notice while banged up.

As for Houston’s defense, they are more than likely hoping Sam Darnold gets a little too confident and pulls out some of his classic knuckleheaded mistakes, but Joe Brady has been a consistent producer since his pilgrimage from the Saints staff. I expect Brady to have a rational game plan that puts Darnold in place to succeed against a Cover 2 defense that has made marginal attempts to hide what they are very plainly doing. D.J. Moore, Christian McCaffrey, and Robby Anderson are all electric home run hitters that an already banged-up Texans defense will have to account for.

l4blitzer: Panther 27, Texans 11.

When the season started, this seemed like one of those games that the Texans, even with the brutal offseason they had, could possibly get as a win. Carolina is in rebuilding mode from their run in the mid-2010s. New coach and looking for a quarterback. If the whole nightmarish sexual harassment/assault allegations things hadn’t hit Watson when it did, there is a good chance the Texans might have sent him back to the Carolinas, where Watson is still a revered figure. Alas, that is not the case. Carolina made its deal with the New York Jets, and is going with Sam Darnold. After a small sample size of two games, that trade seems to be paying off, and quarterback whisperer Joe Brady continues to improve his coaching stock. Additionally, all of those draft picks and moves to shore up the defense appear to be paying off for Matt Rhule. Granted, two games does not a season make, but Carolina is shaping up to be a team that might have something to say about snagging a berth in the NFL Playoffs.

Unfortunately for the Texans, their current situation is not as bright. The loss of Taylor, now projected for a month, does not bode well for a team that can ill-afford the loss of anyone with talent and/or playing well. Taylor, before the injury, was playing quality ball. Now the Texans have to ride with Davis Mills. While there are a lot of factors to consider, especially the fact that he was coming on in relief of Taylor in one of the toughest environments in all of the NFL and against a team with legit Super Bowl aspirations, the body of work put forth by Mills does not inspire confidence. Also, Carolina may not quite have the running game that the Browns do, but with a weapon like Christian McCaffery, the Panthers can move the ball and look to exploit the weaknesses in the Texans’ defense, especially if Lovie Smith’s players can’t force any turnovers.

With Taylor, this game could have been a very entertaining shootout. Without him, unless the Texans’ running game discovers some previously unexploited lapses in the Carolina defense and/or Mills elevates his play to levels not seen in any previous action or practice, this game runs the risk of being a dreary, boring affair, especially when the Texans have the ball. Expect Carolina to do just enough on offense to wear down Houston’s defense while the Panthers’ defense keeps the limited Texans attack in check until the game is well in hand. Granted, short week games can be odd and perhaps this game turns entertainingly stupid, but pending that, this matchup lives down to it status as perhaps the worst primetime matchup in the NFL lineup.

bfMFd: Panthers 31, Texans 6.

Are you making us do one of these for this game? That seems like cruel and unusual punishment. I’M GOING TO TELL THE HAGUE ON YOU.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Panthers throw a shutout Thursday night. Davis Mills’ ceiling is #TEAMKEENUM, and the Texans are expecting him to lead an NFL team after just 11 starts in college? That’s not nice. Against a defense that will stack the box and cave-in the middle at will? The forecast calls for ugly.

The good news is that the Texans will be facing another turnover machine in Sam Darnold, so maybe they get a defensive score themselves.

Two supremely overrated QBs (and, yes, Mills is overrated being a third-rounder) facing off on a Thursday Night game is not what the NFL was gunning for when they created the schedule.

FNG Who Doesn’t Know His Own Name: Panthers 28, Texans 17.

Davis Mills is getting his first NFL start in primetime, which probably isn’t a good thing. Nothing against Mills, but it’s pretty clear that he’s a developmental piece for Houston that needs more reps in practice than in actual games.

I’ve got an article coming out about Mills soon, and the main point that I touch on is the fact the Texans may never have wanted him in the first place. He was probably on their draft board, but not over guys like Kyle Trask and Kellen Mond. If Mills can have a few good outings while Tyrod Taylor is on IR, it should give the whole organization a confidence boost.

Unfortunately, Mills’ best performance likely won’t be against Carolina, a team that has been performing above expectations for the past two weeks. Sam Darnold looks better than ever, and the defense is putting the entire league on notice. If Houston has one advantage in this matchup, it would be that they’re playing at home.

Once again, I hope Mills proves us all wrong and puts on a show, but that can’t be said with confidence right now, given the few plays that we’ve seen him on the field for.

Return_on_Ryberg: Texans 24, Panthers 17.

It is slowly becoming my weekly ritual to say this team should never be two score underdogs. They are this week… again. At home… again.

But forget covering, I genially think the Texans win this one outright. They just got done playing the best rushing team they will face this year and were tied after the first half. I’ve seen enough from the two Texans’ coordinators to think that they are able to get creative to score or cause turnovers. I mean, Houston had an 80-yard touchdown drive with their starting quarterback out in the second half. A couple days of practice should help.

The quarterback play for the Texans is not what has me picking them to win this week, however. I think they get even more creative with how they use their stable of running backs and they get some running lanes on the outside to open up. Then, naturally, we might see some throwing lanes for young Davis Mills to have some success to Pharaoh Brown and the slot guys.

David Culley was asked about the quarterback situation Monday and his response was, “Eh, I don’t know, maybe we’ll get more wild cat packages and throw Mark (Ingram) and those guys back there”. I love how 50% of David Culley’s answers to the media are just about wanting the run the ball physically. So, let’s do that. Let’s get physical. Weird stuff happens on Thursday nights, and I’m ready for a Wildcat Thursday night. Smash Texans +7.5 (responsibly…again)

**Side note: If the Thursday night broadcast shows an animated clip of DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt dressed up as cowboys with the headline “Headed Out West”, we riot.**

Kenneth L.: Panthers 31, Texans 10.

I know. Not going to be a good showing. I am squarely not on the Davis Mills train at the moment. I fear this is considerably too early for him to be thrust into a game. It doesn’t help that it’s coming on a short week either. Expect the Panthers’ defense to play Cover 3 with press to focus down on the box, take away immediate options, and force Mills to be patient. If I’m the Panthers, I’m playing completely straight up and force Mills to do something special. I wouldn’t bring any pressure. Force the rookie to make accurate throws.

Houston’s defense will be in trouble trying to stop CMC. No one can really do it, so I don’t suppose our defense will be the first. Expect the Texans to play well out of the gate but have distinct difficulties midway through the game. I also bet one of Carolina’s two stud receivers goes off with a big TD tonight.

Tim: Panthers 28, Texans 20.

Before the 2021 regular season began, I predicted your Houston Texans would beat the Panthers tonight for one of their three (3) total victories this year. The Panthers have looked considerably better than I expected, but so did the Texans...until Tyrod Taylor got hurt. If Taylor was playing tonight, I’d stick with my original prediction of a Houston victory. But he’s not, and there is no objective reason to believe that Davis Mills will play well enough against a fearsome Carolina pass rush to allow the home team to emerge triumphant.

As I’m not optimistic about a Texans win, my focus is on Tim Kelly. What will he scheme up to give Mills a chance to succeed? Will it be akin to what Gary Kubiak did when Case Keenum was pressed into action against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium back in 2013? Or will it look more like when Tom Savage was forced to start against the Colts in 2017 after Deshaun Watson tore his ACL and Savage proceeded to go 19-44 for 219 yards?

Houston’s offense was impressive with Tyrod Taylor under center. Can Kelly adjust with Mills at his QB1? If he can, his stock as an offensive coordinator (and as a potential head coaching candidate) should skyrocket.

Matt Weston: Panthers 27, Texans 9.

Davis Mills may die tonight. It isn’t outside the realm of possibilities. As great of a job as Tim Kelly has done, there’s only so much glitter you can put on a turd. Mills has zero pocket awareness, a fuzzy throwing arm, a lack of athleticism, and doesn’t have down-by-down accuracy. In front of him is an offensive line that struggles picking up blitzes and stunts, and hasn’t executed their run blocks. It’s either going to be run, run, run, or run, run, death tonight.

The Panthers’ offense is fine. It hasn’t blown anyone out yet. Without a great pass rush from the front four, without Justin Reid, and with a problem defending the screen game, Carolina won’t have a problem hitting their minimum to beat the Texans.

Go ahead and use the comments below to predict Thursday night’s game against the Panthers. Do you think Mills will be better than expected after a (short) week getting practice reps with the first team?