NFL Football: Carolina Panthers vs. Houston Texans Preview, Prediction & Odds -- Sept. 23, 2021

by Big Al Staff

Game time: 8:20 p.m. ET, Sept. 23, 2021
Venue: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
Where to watch: NFL Network

Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks


DraftKings: Panthers -7.5; O/U 43.5; Panthers -400, Texans +300
BetMGM: Panthers -7.5; O/U 44; Panthers -385, Texans +300
Caesars: Panthers -7.5; O/U 44; Panthers -380, Texans +300

Season record
Panthers: 2-0
Texans: 1-1

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Panthers - Texans preview and analysis


Recent form
Panthers: won 26-7 vs. Saints in Week 2
Texans: lost 31-21 at Browns in Week 2

It was a fun run while it lasted for the Houston Texans. At least for the next couple of weeks, things could get rough.

During their 10-point loss at the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was diagnosed with a hamstring injury and will miss at least the next month’s worth of games.

It’s such a deflating blow after a strong start from Taylor in his first two starts, but now it’s on rookie Davis Mills -- not Deshaun Watson -- to steer the ship on Thursday Night Football when the Texans welcome the undefeated Carolina Panthers to town.

With the Texans, it’s a tough blow, but it has to be even worse for Taylor after he dealt with the medical mishaps last season with the Los Angeles Chargers. He comes to Houston and is named the starter with all the hoopla surrounding Watson. After a 291-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Taylor was en route to another sizzling day in Cleveland; he started the game 10-of-11 for 125 yards and a touchdown.

It was a 14-14 game at halftime before Taylor left the game. Mills filled in admirably, but still struggled against the Cleveland defense throwing for 102 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

The books opened the Panthers as 4.5-point favorites, but since the news that Taylor would miss time, it’s now gone up to 7.5. Even with Taylor out, the Texans confirmed that Watson would not play.

Instead, the Texans are tasked with taking on -- through two weeks of this season -- one of the nice surprises in the NFL. The Panthers are 2-0 led by the duo they hoped would push them success in new quarterback Sam Darnold, and star playmaker Christian McCaffrey.

Darnold had one of the best games in his career on Sunday with 305 yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers’ 26-7 dominant win over the New Orleans Saints. McCaffrey had 137 total yards and a touchdown, and DJ Moore has emerged as Darnold’s favorite target after a 79-yard performance and a touchdown.

But it’s Carolina’s defense that’s been just as good through two games. The Panthers’ pressure made life tough for Zach Wilson in Week 1 and Jameis Winston (11-of-22, 111 yards, two interceptions) in Week 2. Hasson Reddick had 1.5 of Carolina’s four sacks on Sunday, and 2021 first-round pick Jaycee Horn recorded his first NFL interception.

Prediction


This is such a tough spot for Mills to come in and do well. If it were any other defense, there might be a chance. But while the Texans were much better against the pass against Cleveland, this is still the same group that got lit up by the Jaguars in Week 1. Moore, McCaffrey and Robby Anderson are a much more talented group and Darnold should play well enough to propel the Panthers to a 3-0 start. Panthers by 17

Betting trends


The Panthers were considered an underdog last week, but by the books, that turns out well. Carolina is 5-1 in its last six against the spread following a win as an underdog.

The Texans are 1-8 ATS in their last nine games following a loss on the road. They are 7-7 ATS in their last 14 home games.

Players to watch


Panthers: While Moore’s emergence as a No. 1 in Carolina has been noticeable, it helps for Darnold to have that familiarity with him in Robby Anderson. The Panthers’ other star receiver had only three catches for 38 yards on Sunday, but expect him to get more targets if Houston focuses more on Moore.

Texans: He’d likely much rather be winning in Los Angeles than losing in Houston, but Brandin Cooks has re-emerged as one of the best deep threats in the game. He’ll need to be at his best with Mills as his quarterback, though. Cooks caught nine passes for 78 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland on Sunday.

Statistical leaders


Panthers:
Passing: Sam Darnold -- 584 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Christian McCaffrey -- 170 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: DJ Moore -- 159 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Shaq Thompson -- 14 tackles, 1 sack

Texans:
Passing: Tyrod Taylor -- 416 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Mark Ingram -- 126 yards, 1 TD 
Receiving: Brandin Cooks -- 210 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Justin Reed -- 2 INT

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