The NFL is finally back, as Houston opens their season at Reliant with an early Sunday game against the Miami Dolphins. This soon in the season, you don’t expect to see injuries playing a big role in the games. Brian Cushing (ribs) and Dolphin left tackle Jake Long (knee) are the big names on the injury report, but both are expected to play. (Edit: Arian Foster is now listed as a game-time decision. He was taken out of practice today, but it looks like it was a precautionary measure. Expect him to play. If he doesn’t, this won’t effect my prediction.) Here is what to watch for:
Houston OLBs vs. Miami OTs
The first of two key matchups in the trenches. This one has a little less marquee value, but more depth. Miami has one of the best blind side protectors in the NFL in Jake Long, and first-round rookie Jonathan Martin, who has the talent to develop into an elite bookend. The Texans will rush Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, Whitney Mercilus and Bryan Braman from the outside. This one could go either way.
Ryan Tannehill vs. Houston’s pressure
Wade Phillips is well-aware that the Dolphin quarterback will be playing his first regular season NFL game, and he’s sure to bring the heat. Expect him to send the dogs to hunt down Tannehill until he proves he can dump the ball off to Reggie Bush. Houston should play this one tight, as Miami doesn’t have any receivers that can stretch the field.
Duane Brown vs. Cameron Wake
Houston’s second-team All-Pro tackle has really come into his own. He’ll take on a 2010 All-Pro in Wake, who came down to earth a bit last year. But with Duane’s past struggles with the Dwight Freeney and Wake’s focus on making plays, this could hurt Houston if they’re not focused.
While these should be the most fun matchups to watch, I don’t expect many others to be close. Miami has a solid defense, but they’re abhorrent at the skill positions, especially after losing Brandon Marshall this offseason. Houston should roll at home and get this season started off on the right foot.
Prediction: HOU 28, MIA 6