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NFL: Texans QB Davis Mills big underdog in first NFL start vs. Panthers

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The good news for Davis Mills is that the Houston Texans’ rookie quarterback will make his first career NFL start at home on Thursday night.

The bad news is he will do it against a resurgent Carolina Panthers team that has opened the 2021 season with a pair of victories.

The Texans (1-1) opened the week as 7.5-point underdogs at PointsBet, where the line has moved to 8.0 points with 51 percent of the money and 69 percent of the spread-line bets backing the Panthers. The line is also 8.0 at DraftKings, with the action far more lopsided with Carolina backed by 83 percent of the money and 75 percent of the bets.

Quarter4, an AI-driven predictive sports analytics provider, has given the Panthers a 62 percent win probability Thursday night.

Mills, a rookie out of Stanford, gets the call with Tyrod Taylor placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. He’ll be backed up by Jeff Driskel, who was activated from the practice squad on Thursday as the Texans will sit Deshaun Watson for a third consecutive week.

Mills’ primary concern is a Carolina defense that is showing plenty of teeth.

The Panthers have topped the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints thus far. A dominant defense has set the tone for the Panthers, but quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Christian McCaffrey have been critical to their fast start.

“We have a lot of things to do to improve,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said, noting that defensive packages will be adjusted in dealing with the Texans.

Carolina leads the NFL with 10 sacks and now runs into an inexperienced Houston quarterback.

That has contributed to the Over/Under moving from 44 to 43 points at PointsBet. The action has been split, with 52 percent of the money backing the Under but 66 percent of the total bets placed on the Over.

The same market has also skewed more towards Carolina at DraftKings, where 59 percent of the money and 68 percent of the bets have supported the 43-point Over.

Mills was tagged in last Sunday at Cleveland when Taylor was injured. First-year head coach David Culley came away impressed.

“We know he’s always one of those guys that when a bad thing happens, he comes back, he makes a play,” Culley said.

It will help any young quarterback to have a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle leading protection, and Laremy Tunsil gives Houston a sound blocker against Carolina’s edge rushers.

Even with the quick turnaround on the schedule, Mills should have more practice opportunities in a first-string role for the Carolina game.

“I’m excited to see what he does as time goes on,” Houston running back Phillip Lindsay said.

Already what has been evident to Mills’ teammates is a degree of toughness that’s appreciated.

“One of the things you want to show is toughness,” Texans receiver Brandin Cooks said. “You know he took a couple to the face and bounced right back up. And when you see that from a rookie, you got a lot of respect for him.”

Houston hopes for another fast start, getting on the board early in each of the first two games. The Panthers haven’t allowed a point in the first half this season.

For Carolina’s offense, a real test could come with the durability of McCaffrey. He played in only three games last season because of injuries, yet he has been plenty busy this month.

McCaffrey, who had 30 touches in the first game and 29 more in Week 2, said he should be fine after leaving Sunday’s game for a stretch with what was described as cramping.

“I’ve just got to do a better job of taking care of it during the week,” McCaffrey said Monday.

Culley said he doesn’t want too much pressure on his team in this prime-time matchup.

“I think you are going to see the same football team that you have seen for the first two games,” he said. “Hopefully we just eliminate the two turnovers. And if we eliminate those turnovers, then it’s a completely different Texan football team.”

Texans defensive back Terrance Mitchell began the week in the concussion protocol. Carolina left guard Pat Elflein is likely out with a hamstring ailment.

Kicker Joey Slye, who was let go by the Panthers in the preseason following an inconsistent 2020, latched on with the Texans.

He’s 3-for-4 on field goals with his new team.

The Panthers lead the all-time series with Houston, 3-2.

–Field Level Media

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