Two teams coming off disturbing Week 1 home upset losses will tangle Thursday night in Cincinnati when the Bengals play host to the Houston Texans and new first-team QB Deshaun Watson, who led Clemson to last year's national title.
The game marks the fourth time since 2004 that a rookie quarterback will be making his starting debut on a Thursday with only three days of preparation time and only the second time on the road.
In 2004, Dallas QB Drew Henson went 4-for-12 in a Thanksgiving home game against Chicago before being benched at the half. He never started again. Two years later, Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson opened for the Vikings in a game at Green Bay. Minnesota lost 9-7 and generated only 104 yards total offense.
Then last year in Week 3, in a game the Texans well remember, New England's Jacoby Brissett started for the host Patriots in a 27-0 victory. Brissett was 11-for-19 for 103 yards and did lead three TD drives, but all were on short fields including drives of 21 and 22 yards.
Now for a closer look at Thursday's game. The odds were provided by Westgate Las Vegas:
Houston Texans (0-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Line: Bengals by 6.5 (38)
Facts: Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton had the second worst game of his career (28.4 passer rating, 4 INTs) in last week's 20-0 loss to Baltimore. He famously followed his worst outing (2.0 vs. Cleveland in 2014) with his second best (143.9) in a 27-10 win at New Orleans as a 7.5-point underdog. The Bengals haven't been that big a dog since... Houston, coming off a 29-7 loss to Jacksonville, yanked starter Tom Savage at the half after he was sacked six times and generated only 52 yards and zero points. Watson stepped in and guided the Texans on a TD drive that included seven first downs, but nothing thereafter... The Texans yielded 10 sacks last week, the most by any team since Washington had 10 vs. the Jags three years ago... Both teams will be without key performers: Houston LB Brian Cushing and Cincinnati LB Vontaze Burfict (suspensions) and three Houston tight ends are hurt (doubtful or out).
Analysis: The unknown in this one is Watson, who figured to be the No. 1 Houston QB at some point this year but probably not this fast. His numbers indicate early trouble could be ahead. Based on his college stats (17 INTs last year) he's not a marksman, plus in last week's relief role he averaged only 4.4 yards a throw – lowest by anyone in Week 1. On short prep time and on the road, it would be a surprise if he ever finds a comfort zone in the pocket behind a line that caved in last week. It won't help that his familiar TE targets won't be there. As for the Bengals, Dalton and his top receivers are a proven commodity and are more likely to bounce back from a miserable performance.
Forecast: Bengals 29, Texans 13