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Houston Texans vs. New Orleans Saints Pick

Houston Texans (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS) vs. New Orleans Saints (1-1 SU, 1-1 ATS), 1:00 p.m. EST, Week 3 NFL, Sunday, September 25, 2011, Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, La., TV: CBS
by Badger, NFL Handicapper,

Point Spread: Hou +4/N.O. -4
Over/Under Total: 53

Two of the hottest teams in the National Football League’s in the first two weeks will face off to see which one can keep the early season momentum rolling when the Houston Texans travel to play the New Orleans Saints in an AFC-NFC showdown in the Superdome Sunday on CBS.

The Texans have been impressive in their two victories thus far, including a 23-13 win on the road in Florida over the Miami Dolphins last weekend. Quarterback Matt Schaub was uber-efficient (21-of-29, 230 yards, 118.5 QB rating) for a second-straight week to lead the offense, and the revamped 3-4 defense pressured the Dolphins into several mistakes and also blocked a field goal to help the Texans move to 2-0 for the second-straight year.

The Saints only have a 1-1 record to show for their effort so far this season, but with Drew Brees leading an offense that is averaging 32 points a game and a defense that looked tough to game plan against in last Sunday’s victory over the Chicago Bears, 30-13, the Saints are still considered one of the teams to beat in the NFC.

The Texans-Saints matchup on Sunday could be considered a “measuring stick” game for both teams too. Houston started 2-0 last season as well, but things fell apart quickly and they wound up finishing 6-10, a fate they will try and avoid in 2011.

For the Saints it’s another chance for the young defense to prove that the unit that held the Bears to 13 points in week two is going to be more of the norm, instead of the unit that was gouged for 42 points in the opener versus the Packers.

Either way it should be a good game featuring two playoff worthy teams going head-to-head to see who is going to take the next step toward the ultimate goal.

Oddsmakers seem to agree that this one should be a good one, since they set the opening point spread with the Saints as 4-point favorites, just a point higher than the “standard” three-point mark that a home team typically gets on the board. The betting public is on board too, because after a few days the number has yet to move much in either direction.

The over/under total opened at 53, the highest total on the card this week in the NFL, and it also has yet to see any line movement in either direction after the early action at the betting window. The total opened so high because both teams seem to be hitting on all cylinders on offense.

Even though Schaub threw two interceptions in the Texans, 34-7, season-opening victory over the Colts, he still has solid numbers with a 100.4 QB rating, and an 8.49 yards per pass average while hitting on 71.7 percent of his passes.

But what is more surprising about the Texans offense is that they haven’t missed a step in the running game despite not having breakout back Arian Foster available the first two weeks. Second-year back Ben Tate has 219 yards and a TD in his absence, and the Texans have shown they won’t change their game plan since they currently rank 5th in the NFL in rushing yards with a 108.5 yards per game average.

They’ll face off against a Saints defensive unit that seems to have gotten its swagger back against the Bears last week. After not getting a whole lot of pressure against the Packers in the opener, the Saints responded with six sacks and pretty consistent pressure against Jay Cutler last week. Plus, the run defense seems to have been upgraded over previous seasons since the unit is currently 7th-ranked against the run allowing 81.5 yards per game thus far, something that will certainly get tested this week against Tate/Foster and the Texans.

The Saints will regain the services of their best defensive end again this week too, as Will Smith is back after serving his two-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy.

Brees and the Saints offense have picked up right where they left off in previous seasons, sporting the 5th-ranked offense overall (429.5 ypg) and the 5th-ranked unit in passing yards per game with a mark of 330 yards per. Despite an injury to go-to receiver Marques Colston (collarbone), Brees has picked apart defenses at an alarming rate with almost 700 yards already (689), six touchdowns and a 114.9 QB rating.

What will be worth watching is how well Brees does against the revamped Texans defense, a defense that after two weeks is ranked No. 1 overall in total defense (271 ypg), pass defense (162.5 ypg) and points per game (10 ppg). Keep in mind they’ve played a Peyton Manning-less Colts and the offensively challenged Dolphins in those two weeks, but they are impressive numbers regardless. This week will be the true test for the new 3-4 scheme, a test the Texans must pass in order to keep Schaub and offense in the game.

Surprisingly, these two teams haven’t met on the gridiron since the 2007 season, in a game that turned into a 23-10 victory for the Texans at home in Reliant Stadium. The last time these two played in the Superdome was in 2003, and it was a 31-10 route by the Saints. Both teams covered the point spread in their respective stadiums, with the over cashing in at the Superdome (40.5) and the under cashing at Houston (50).

Most of the betting trends follow patterns that you would expect from both of these teams.

The Texans, always a great team early in the season, sport a 4-1 ATS record in their last five games in September. But they are just 2-5 ATS in their last seven road games and are just 1-6 ATS in their last seven games as an underdog.

The Saints are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 September contests, 4-1 ATS in their last five games as a home favorite and 6-2 ATS versus teams with a winning record.

The over may be the strongest trend play though, as it is 6-0 in the Texans last six games as an underdog (4-0 as road dog) and 8-2 when they play on fieldturf. The over is also 8-3-1 in the Saints last 12 games in September and 6-0 following a Saints win of more than 14 points or more.

Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: It’s easy to look past the defenses in this game with Brees and Schaub on the field, but I think this game goes against the initial look of an offensive shootout. I really like the under of 53 here, in a game that both teams will struggle a little to get going early. Take the under of 53.

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