The Kansas City Chiefs found a home away from home in NRG Stadium during the 2015-16 season, knocking off the host Texans in Week 1, and again during in the AFC Wild Card Game, running Houston out of its own building, 30-0.
But this Texans team is not the same as it was a season ago. Even though the Texans made the playoffs by virtue of winning the AFC South, there was still much to be desired as the team never really found an offensive identity.
Those issues appear to be slowly coming to a resolution, thanks to the guidance of head coach Bill O’Brien and the emergence of new starting quarterback Brock Osweiler.
The Chiefs are trying to avoid a repeat of last week when they found themselves in a 17-point hole to a less-than-impressive Chargers team. It took an improbable fourth-quarter rally and an Alex Smith overtime dive to finally get the W. If the Chiefs want to win their third game at NRG Stadium in 12 months, the sloppy play that cost them last week will have to be cleaned up by this Sunday.
Kansas City at Houston
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Houston -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Meeting an Old Foe... Sort Of
The Texans committed somewhat of a coup this offseaon when they signed former Denver Bronco and free agent Brock Osweiler to a $72-million free-agent contract. So far, so good for the Texans and their new starting quarterback. Last week, Osweiler showed he was capable of leading an NFL offense — at least for one game — in throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns in his debut with Houston.
While Osweiler is still rather green when it comes to quarterbacking in the NFL, he does have experience against these Chiefs. Last season, Osweiler filled in for a sub-par Peyton Manning at halftime when the Broncos hosted the Chiefs on Nov. 15. Osweiler completed 14-of-24 passes, one touchdown and one interception in a 29-13 Kansas City win.
The key for Osweiler, much as it has been for Alex Smith’s career, is to not worry about making big plays — just make the right plays — and with DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver, making any play is a little bit easier. Osweiler also has the luxury of an impactful running game headlined by fellow free agent addition Lamar Miller, who topped the 100-yard mark last week against Chicago on 28 carries.
2. Chief Concern: Stopping the Blitz
Romeo Crennell has long been considered one of the better defensive minds in the NFL for quite some time. His ability to run a defense actually earned him the head coaching gig in Kansas City prior to the arrival of Andy Reid in 2012.
Like most football coaches, Crennell has worked up the ladder and bounced around, but everywhere he’s been his aggressive defenses have always come with him. Crennell has found a home in Houston, and with the likes of Captain American himself, J.J. Watt, the emergence (finally) of Jadeveon Clowney, and an explosive linebacker core lead by Whitney Mercilus (AFC Defensive Player of the Week), Houston could have the best defense in the AFC this year.
Last week, the Chiefs struggled mightily up front against a Chargers D-line that was without first-round pick Joey Bosa. With Kansas City likely playing without starting guards Parker Ehinger (concussion) and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (high ankle sprain), expect Houston to bring the house down after down.
3. D’ing Up DeAndre
Hopkins has a valid argument as the best receiver in the AFC — especially after last season in which he was third in the NFL in receptions (111) and yards (1,521), scoring 11 touchdowns, all while facing defensive double-teams and catching passes from four different, marginal-at-best, quarterbacks.
In last season’s wild card matchup, Hopkins was limited to just six catches and 69 yards against the Chiefs. With a steady hand under center in Osweiler, expect for Hopkins to finish the day with more than a handful of catches against a Chiefs defense that looked hapless for much of Week 1.
Last week, the Charges (a lesser team) exposed some early flaws in the Chiefs on both sides of the ball. The Texans (an improved team) already own a stout defense and what feels like a new-look and an upgraded offense with Brock Osweiler under center and Lamar Miller in the backfield. Kansas City’s offense will have to play a much more efficient brand of football for all four quarters to ward off Houston’s top-notch D — a task that may be too tall against such an aggressive and talented defense. Plus, it’s hard enough beating a team twice in a row on its own turf. Doing it a third time in the span of a year, is practically unheard of.
Prediction: Texans 23, Chiefs 20
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.