This week’s Thursday Night Football matchup sees a pair of teams who are amongst the biggest surprise packages that the league has seen so far, with both in the joint lead of their respective divisions.
The Texans, who opened proceedings with a big win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, followed up the result with a gutsy performance against the Cleveland Browns which only began to slip away once quarterback Tyrod Taylor went down with an injury.
Their opponents have impressed even further, following up an expected but hard-fought win over the Jets in week one with an all-round mauling of a Saints team that had been expected to bring Sam Darnold and co. back down to earth with a bump on Sunday.
All eyes on the QBs
Sam Darnold’s fascinating return to glory will be of much attention on Thursday, as he seeks to prove fans, commentators and peers that the hype around his entry into his league was well-warranted, and that his NFL performance up to this point was being stunted by powers, and a badly run franchise, out of his control.
With the help of clever, well designed and intelligently used offensive co-ordination by Joe Brady, Darnold has already thrown for 584 yards and three touchdowns in his opening two games.
With a relationship between the two likely only to strengthen, as things often do when success is being had, Thursday is a fantastic opportunity for the pairing to show what they have to offer on the big stage.
Darnold’s opposite number for the game will be third-round rookie, Davis Mills, who threw 8/18 upon entering the game on Sunday but looks set for a tough task against the stingy Panthers defence – more on that later.
In many ways, it’s the quarterback who will sit that is just as bigger news as the fact the Mills will start, as everyone is offered another reminder of the seriousness of the Deshaun Watson situation.
Panthers defence purring
Being thrown in at the proverbial deep-end in NFL terms, often involves a rookie quarterback and a mid-season switch into the fray, yet for Mills, the job is made harder by the fact he looks set to try and prove his worth against the best defence in the league so far based off many of the major yardsticks.
The Panther’s defence has allowed just 380 total yards across two games, is the only team with double digit sacks, and has grabbed as many interceptions than they have allowed touchdowns (3).
With the ability to get to the quarterback thanks to the quickly developing Brian Burns and Derrick Brown, Carolina offers the most serious of threats to even the most secure of offensive lines.
And things don’t get any easier for Mills on the back end either with Jeremy Chinn, Donte Jackson and rookie corner Jaycee Horn, all performing at a higher levels than many would have expected entering the season.
Overall, mainly due to the loss of Tyrod Taylor who had been back to his best until the injury midway through week two, it is tough to see anything other than a Panthers victory in NRG Stadium this Thursday.
The Texans veteran led defence isn’t going to roll over by any means, and I imagine this once again being far closer than many predict the Texans to be, with Houston keeping Darnold to his lowest output on the season so far.
The Panthers aren’t used to being favourite, and certainly not by +7.5 points as the bookies currently have them, so that may mess with the pre-match motivation that Matt Rhule is used to delivering, but in the end I think the Panthers quality will prevail, and the NFC South team will continue their perfect start.
Houston 14, Carolina 20