San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans Prediction: Can Davis Mills Win a Battle of Rookie Quarterbacks?

Trey Lance is expected to start for Jimmy Garoppolo, so how will that impact a matchup with a suddenly-hot Texans team led by their own rookie quarterback? NFL expert Ben Gretch is here previewing the Week 17 matchup.
Ben Gretch |
Sat, January 1, 3:00 PM EST | 8 min read
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San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans Prediction: Can Davis Mills Win a Battle of Rookie Quarterbacks?

Fresh off back-to-back wins, the Texans head to San Francisco to take on a 49ers’ team looking to secure a spot in the playoffs over the final two weeks. The 49ers head to Los Angeles for a road game with the Rams in Week 18, and need to win out to ensure their playoff ticket, so they certainly need this game against Houston. But similar was true of the Chargers last week, and the Texans caught them off guard in Week 15’s biggest upset. 

San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans Start Time, Where to Watch, and Odds

Date: Sunday, January 2, 2022

Game Time: 4:05 p.m ET

Where to Watch: CBS

  • Key Stat: In Davis Mills’ last seven starts, the Texans have averaged 328 yards of offense, and have posted at least 280 in six of seven games

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San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans Over/Under Movement

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49ers vs. Texans Prediction

It’s still not clear who will be under center for San Francisco, as Jimmy Garoppolo is dealing with a Grade 3 sprain in the thumb on his throwing hand, but the 49ers have kept the possibility open that he could play. If he’s unable to go, rookie Trey Lance will get his second start. Lance looked raw as a passer in his first game, but he rushed 16 times for 89 yards, many of which were designed runs. He has a big arm and there’s always the possibility he’s made strides in practice over the past couple of months, but his accuracy left a lot to be desired last time out. That said, his mobility and the 49ers’ well-designed ground attack that creates huge rushing efficiency for essentially any running back getting touches should keep their offense afloat against a beatable Texans’ defense. And Lance will have George Kittle and a now-established Brandon Aiyuk as secondary receivers in a much better passing attack than the weapons he was throwing to back in Week 5. 

The 49ers lost that game 17-10 to the Cardinals, but they did move the ball, generating 338 total yards. They got stuffed by a goal-line stand at the 1-yard line in the second quarter, and lost three other drives to failed fourth-down attempts around midfield, so their 10 points scored were not necessarily indicative of how they played as an offense. My expectation is with those results in the rearview mirror and so much time to have reflected both from an offensive design standpoint and also in terms of Lance’s personal development, that there’s significant potential for an improved performance. 

On the other side, the Texans have kind of been rolling, at least for an offense that on the season ranks dead last in the NFL in total yards by more than 300. Houston’s been starting their own rookie quarterback, Davis Mills, and Mills has brought some life to the unit. For the season, Mills has now started nine games, taking over in Week 3 and making it until Week 8 before missing some time and then regaining the starting job in Week 14. His first few starts were very rough, but he had started to find some success in the middle of the season, and he’s picked up where he left off since taking back over recently. In between there, the offense really struggled under Tyrod Taylor, but if we isolate Mills’ past seven starts, the Texans have put up at least 280 yards of offense in six of them, and have averaged 328. That’s by no means a massive number, but it’s a lot closer to the league average of 345 yards per game than Houston’s season average of 277, meaning in those seven games they’ve looked like a halfway competent offense at times. 

And over these three most recent games since Mills took back over, they’ve been even better, averaging 366 yards of offense and 28 points. That doesn’t mean we throw out all their other past results — the Texans have been shut out twice this year, and have been held to fewer than 10 points four other times — but it’s not uncommon for rookies to develop a little more consistency with more playing time, and there’s a legitimate reason to believe the Texans should be viewed as your standard below-average offense right now, rather than what their last-in-the-league metrics in many categories suggest. And that’s a notable difference.

I’m taking the over in this one. The 49ers play slow, but they’re an efficient offense, and I expect they’ll find success with whichever quarterback is under center given the way their offense has developed with more skill position depth in the second half of the season. This is an offense designed to get the ball in playmakers’ hands with space to move, and I think they’ll be able to execute that better in Lance’s second start than in his first, assuming he is under center.

Meanwhile, the Texans are improving, and they are notably willing and able to throw the ball and be aggressive. Per the RotoViz Pace Tool, over the past three weeks, the Texans have been the second-quickest offense in average time to snap while down seven or more points, running no-huddle at a league-high 48% clip and throwing 86% of the time in those situations. If nothing else, they’ve found enough success to be emboldened to play fast, loose, and aggressive when trailing lately, and while I do expect the 49ers to win this one, I like what that means for Houston’s ability to push the overall scoring up in this one.

49ers vs. Texans Pick

Ben knows his football. A fantasy football expert who was most recently seen at CBS Sports, he'll be helping bettors find value ahead in the NFL with OddsChecker.

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