This is an interesting game because the Texans have just clinched the AFC South division and the Panthers have no chance at the NFC South or the Super Bowl. Add the fact that the Texans are down to their 3rd-string QB and it makes the game even more interesting. Under normal circumstances, such as if this game were being played mid-season with both QBs healthy and both teams fighting tooth and nail for every win, then the Texans would be a heavy favorite. However, in this case, the pride motivation of the Panthers equals the playing field when compared to the more talented Texans. Then again, are the Texans really more talented? Let's take a closer look.
The first thing we need to establish is that the 3rd-string QB for the Texans, T.J. Yates, is not your ordinary 3rd-string QB. He might be a North Carolina guy, which isn't common for NFL QBs, but the upper management and fans think the world of him. Not only that, but ex-college teammates and coaches have high praise for him. His ceiling is high. It's so high in fact that when Matt Leinart took over for an injured Matt Schaub, the Texans were already making plans for T.J. Yates to take over prior to the end of the season. It ended up working out with Leinart getting injured during his first start, which he was playing exceptionally well in, by the way.
So when we compare the two QBs in this game, we have the high-profile and extremely athletic Cam Newton and the methodical, wise decision-making T.J. Yates. Cam Newton might be the better athlete, but he's also prone to bad mistakes. People make the excuse for him that he's a rookie and that he will get better. That might be true, but isn't Andy Dalton a rookie? Wasn't Sam Bradford a rookie last season during his incredible season? How about T.J. Yates himself? He hasn't had much playing time, but he's already a proven winner. When it comes to the QB position and winning the game opposed to scoring more fantasy points we like T.J. Yates.
When it comes to RBs, it's pretty even. That might sound crazy because the Texans arguably have the best RB in the league in Arian Foster. However, Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are the ideal 1-2 threat. At the WR position, Andre Johnson is a monster when he's on the field. The only problem is that he's rarely on the field. He's listed as day-to-day. When it comes down to game time, it would be a surprise to see him play. Why risk injury to the best WR in the league when you have already clinched the division? For the Panthers, Steve Smith never seems to age. You need to watch this guy move. It's truly incredible. The Panthers also have some good young WRs, but they're not consistent.
It might sound as though it's relatively even so far, but the defenses for both teams are nowhere close. The Texans defense is the most improved unit in the NFL. The Panthers defense is decent in the 1st half of games, but they never seem to show up in the 2nd half of games.
The Panthers will need to continue to attack on offense in the second half. Last week, they put the brakes on versus the Falcons and that ended up costing them the game. While the Texans might be stronger on paper, the Panthers have an overall more explosive offense. Their offense is also consistent in regards to putting up points. The Texans will also score. The difference in the game will come down to how well the Texans defense performs.