With both of these Southern teams sitting at 2-2, it’s time to see who’s for real and whose hot start was a fluke as the Houston Texans visit the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday (10/8/23). Let’s dig into some player props, with rising stars like C.J. Stroud and Bijan Robinson set to take the field.
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As the two leading candidates for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, Stroud and Robinson will both be centers of attention on Sunday, as this head to head showcase could end up being a major resume piece for either. Let’s take a look at some props involving these two young talents.
C.J. Stroud Over 0.5 Interceptions (+115 BetMGM)
Let’s just start by saying that Stroud has been fantastic to start his rookie season, and that I was among the group of doubters who are quickly being proven completely wrong. Stroud is averaging over 300 passing yards per game with over 62% completion and a passer rating over 100, and still has yet to throw his first interception in the regular season after getting off to an ugly preseason debut.
However, that doesn’t mean that Stroud has necessarily played completely error-free football; his four turnover worthy plays so far are pretty much league average, and the regression to the mean has to come at some point. I like the Texans in this game in many ways, but considering the Falcons have the league’s best run defense by EPA, Stroud will be throwing the ball quite a bit. He might be doing so by going vertically, as he’s garnered an average depth of target of 8.4 yards, which sits a bit above league average.
That could be quite the tall task against Atlanta’s new-look air defense. Cornerback duo A.J. Terrell and Dee Alford have both been solid, but that’s not the biggest problem for Houston’s new passer. That would be Jessie Bates, who came over from Cincinnati and has been absolutely phenomenal. He’s tied for the league lead with three interceptions already, and while that can be a fluky statistic, he’s earned a sparkling PFF coverage grade of 89.4, second in the NFL among all safeties.
With Bates playing a gold-glove caliber center field, and Stroud possibly throwing closer to the 40+ attempts that we saw in his first two starts rather than the 30 he’s thrown in each of the past two, expect the Ohio State alum to turn the ball over for the first time as a pro.
Ka’imi Fairbairn Over 1.5 Field Goals Made (-105 BetMGM)
While Stroud’s overall numbers have been outstanding, you might notice that he’s only thrown for six touchdowns despite the pass-heavy Houston approach. Are they scoring on the ground? Not really at all; Dameon Pierce has the team’s lone rushing touchdown. So who’s scoring all of the touchdowns?
The answer, in short, is that nobody has done too much in the “getting the ball into the end zone” department, as Houston has scored touchdowns on just 35.7% of its red zone possessions so far. That number is as bad as it seems; it’s 31st in the NFL, ahead of only the Saints, which yes, means that the Texans have been worse in the red zone than the Steelers, which is nearly impossible given the ineptitude of that Pittsburgh offensive line.
This trend is likely to eventually turn around, but it’s probably not going to be on Sunday. The Falcons are fifth in the league in defensive red zone percentage, as that Bates-led defense is allowing touchdowns on just 40% of possessions that crack the 20 yard line. That’s where Fairbairn comes into play. He was great last season as he drilled 29 of his 31 field goal attempts, and was even perfect on six attempts of 50 yards or longer. In terms of field goals less than 30 yards, which many stalled red zone possessions will yield, he was perfect as well on seven kicks, and hit seven of eight kicks between 30 and 39 yards.
This season, he’s perfect on 11 kicks shorter than 40 yards, with just one long range miss. Now in his seventh year with Houston, Fairbarn has become one of the longest-tenured kickers with one team, a testament to the stability and consistency he provides. With this red zone matchup, he’ll have chances, and given his track record, he’s hitting them.
Bijan Robinson Anytime Touchdown Scorer (-110 BetMGM)
Stroud might be overdue to get picked off, but when you look up the word “overdue” in the dictionary, you’ll find a description of Bijan Robinson’s pursuit to record his first NFL rushing touchdown. It’s borderline ridiculous that Robinson hasn’t scored on the ground- and only has once through the air- as he is the engine of the Atlanta offense. He’s fourth in the NFL with 318 rushing yards, and his 53 attempts are the second most of any runner without a touchdown this season.
He’ll finally record his milestone score against a Houston run defense that has been well below standard. Their rush defense is 28th in DVOA, and 25th in EPA. They’re allowing well over 100 yards at a clip of 4.4 yards per attempt, and more importantly, seven rushing touchdowns in four games. It also helps Robinson’s case that Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder has been abjectly terrible, and has all but neutralized his own passing attack.
Robinson is the primary home run hitter in the offense, and in the red zone, he can’t get vultured by Tyler Allgeier forever; the preseason rookie of the year favorite will finally get into the end zone this Sunday.