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David Mills gets his first NFL start on Thursday Night Football against the Panthers. What can we expect? Derrik Klassen gives us his player prop picks
ANALYSIS

Top Thursday Night Football Player Props: Carolina Panthers vs. Houston Texans

Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey Over 85.5 Rushing Yards @ -110 (DraftKings)

Top to bottom, the Texans are a better squad than many of us expected. They are 1-1 with a cover in their loss to Cleveland last week, which may have been taken to the wire if quarterback Tyrod Taylor remained healthy. That said, one aspect of the Texans team is as bad as they looked headed into the season: run defense.

Per Football Outsiders, Houston sits at 27th in run defense DVOA through two weeks, according to Football Outsiders. Pro Football Reference also has them with the second-worst expected points contributed via run defense (-8.56), trailing only the abysmal Kansas City Chiefs defensive front (-21.20). Both of those figures account for the context of each game rather than more basic box score stats, but even their 4.6 yards per attempt allowed is below average. This unit can not defend the run at all and are lucky these figures do not look worse considering they played a Jaguars team who was disinterested in running the ball in the opener.

Carolina, on the other hand, looks to have a competent offensive line. Looking at the roster heading into the year, this unit looked to have some disaster potential, particularly left tackle. The left tackle spot with Cam Erving could still use an upgrade, but for now, pieces such as center Matt Paradis and right tackle Taylor Moton have led the Panthers to a solid 11th in adjusted line yards, per Football Outsiders. They managed that figure through performances against some decent New York Jets and New Orleans Saints fronts, too. They aren’t the 2016 Cowboys, but they can do enough to get things done.

Lastly, McCaffrey is going to get volume. Not only can the Panthers get ahead in this one and run the clock out in the second half, but McCaffrey has been getting volume anyway. He has earned 21 and 24 carries in each of the past two games, and there is no real reason to expect that to slow down here, especially given the Texans defense is far more competent in pass defense.

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Panthers TE Dan Arnold Over 1.5 Receptions @ -205 (DraftKings)

The odds are very favorable, so I’m not going out on a limb or anything with this one. If you want a freebie, though, this is the prop.

For starts, Dan Arnold has already snagged more than 1.5 passes in both games this year. He caught two passes for six yards in the opener, then another three passes for 55 yards against the Saints this past weekend. Arnold is no stud tight end, to be clear, but he is their top guy at the position and quarterback Sam Darnold seems more willing and better equipped to spread the ball around than during his Jets tenure.

The Texans defense, despite largely looking effective against the pass so far, also struggle handling tight ends, specifically. Per Sharp Football Stats, the Texans defense has surrendered the third-highest target rate to tight ends so far, trailing only Baltimore and Kansas City. Sharp Football Stats also has Houston with a 76% success rate allowed on those targets, good for 28th in the league. Moreover, Football Outsiders has the Texans pass defense ranked 19th in DVOA against tight ends, which is slightly more generous than their overall success rate, but not by enough to feel good about them.

Arnold will not take over the game, but he will get his opportunities to hit the over on this prop pretty handily.

Complete Panthers vs. Texans odds

Texans Under 1.5 Team Total Touchdowns @ +130 (DraftKings)

Plain and simple: I do not trust rookie Davis Mills to steer the Texans offense to multiple touchdowns. Some of that is Mills himself, some of that is the Panthers defense, but all of it looks bad for Houston’s chances on offense, even at home.

For one, Mills was not a high-quality quarterback prospect. Houston taking a swing on a Day 2 quarterback makes sense given they are in rebuild mode, but Mills was a reach on draft day. His arm does not rank much higher than the NFL threshold, he sees the game a tick late, and his accuracy comes in waves. I personally charted many of the 2021 quarterback class’ top quarterbacks, and Mills’ profile was one of the worst of the bunch. Things could work out down the line for the former five-star, but he is not a Year One difference-maker.

That looked to be true against the Browns last week when Mills had to play in place of an injured Tyrod Taylor. Taylor was slinging it to the tune of 11 yards per pass against a struggling Browns defense, but Mills finished 8-of-18 for 102 yards (5.7 per attempt), one touchdown, one pick, and a sack.

Carolina’s defense easily outmatches Houston’s offense, too, even if Taylor was still behind center. The Panthers currently sit at third in overall defensive DVOA and fifth against the pass. It helps that the Jets were one of their two games, but they also played Sean Payton’s Saints,  and we saw what that unit did to Green Bay in the opener. Furthermore, the Panthers front seven ranks 10th in ESPN’s team pass-rush win rate, while the Texans offensive line ranks 29th. Mills, an already ill-equipped rookie, is going to be under constant siege.

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You've seen his breakdowns and football analysis on Twitter and elsewhere. Now, Derrik Klassen brings his unmatched knowledge of the game to OddsChecker to give us his NFL picks each and every week.

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