Why the Texans will be exposed as playoff pretenders against the Colts

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The AFC South is as tight as any division in the NFL. Three teams are tied atop the standings at 6-6: The Texans, Colts and Titans. As it stands right now, it would appear as though any one of the three teams could steal the division crown and sneak into the playoffs.

That idea is false, and it’ll become blatantly apparent on Sunday when the Texans visit the Colts.

Houston isn’t a playoff team. It hasn’t been one all year – we’ve just been blinded by the Texans’ seemingly decent record. They got off to a hot start, beginning 4-2 while holding the division lead for much of the season. Their success continued as they got out to a 6-3 mark through nine games, seemingly establishing themselves as AFC South favorites.

Since then, they’ve lost three in a row – unsurprisingly to three decent teams. They’ve surrendered their cushion in the division and they’ll never get it back. The Colts are going to expose the Texans for what they really are: pretenders.

The main reason Houston isn’t a serious threat in the AFC (and never has been) is because of its big free agent acquisition. That’s right: quarterback Brock Osweiler. He’s been one of the five worst quarterbacks in the NFL this season just months after signing a four-year, $72 million ($36 million guaranteed) contract. The Texans are really only on the hook for two years given his contract structure, but even that might be too long for them to hold onto him.

He has the second-worst passer rating (74.2) among eligible QBs, is completing 59.8 percent of his passes (28th) and has the worst yards per attempt (5.77) in the NFL. Not to mention, he has just one more touchdown (14) than he has interceptions (13). To say he’s been a disappointment would be a massive understatement, and the Texans have to be experiencing a bit of buyer’s remorse.

On Sunday against the Colts, he actually has a somewhat favorable matchup. D’Qwell Jackson is out due to a suspension, the secondary isn’t outstanding and the pass rush is nothing to be afraid of. Everything points to Osweiler having a good game, but so did his matchups with the Chargers, Raiders and Jaguars. Osweiler has no consistent connection with DeAndre Hopkins and he doesn’t have the deep ball to hit Will Fuller with any kind of consistency down the field.

Should the Colts decide to have Vontae Davis shadow Hopkins, Osweiler’s day will be difficult. In their last meeting, Davis allowed just four catches on eight targets with an interception. Hopkins is by far the Texans’ best receiver, and while Osweiler has had a hard time getting on the same page with him, he needs Hopkins to have a big game.

When the Colts are on offense, they’ll also have success. Andrew Luck is playing extremely well, completing 63.8 percent of his passes for 277 yards per game with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in his past five games. His passer rating in those games is 104.1, which is outstanding. Houston’s defense is a strong suit of the roster, but the Colts’ offensive line has performed substantially better in recent weeks.

Outside of a six-sack game against the Chiefs, Luck has been brought down just five times in the past three games. The line had its best game of the year against the Jets, allowing just one sack and propelling the Colts to their second-highest rushing total of the year (139 yards).

Jadeveon Clowney says he’ll play on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be 100 percent. He’s been the Texans’ best run defender this season, and without him, Frank Gore could be in for a big game. As it is, the Texans are 19th against the run this year, which is only one spot better than the Colts in that department.

The Texans’ best chance at a victory is getting Lamar Miller going. He had his best game of the season in the teams’ first meeting, rushing for 149 yards. Osweiler had a decent game, which opened up the run, but Miller will need to have a similar output for the Texans to have a shot at beating the since-improved Colts.

I don’t expect that to happen, though. I think the Colts will handle the Texans for several reasons. Luck is playing like an All-Pro, the offensive line is improving, Osweiler is consistently bad and the game is in Indianapolis. Osweiler has a tendency to get a bit flustered on the road in big games, and if the crowd gets into it, he could be shaken a bit at the line of scrimmage.

In six road games, the Texans are 1-5. Osweiler has a passer rating of just 72.0 in those starts while completing 56.4 percent of his passes and averaging a measly 4.69 yards per attempt. The Colts will rattle him and show that the Texans aren’t a playoff team – they’re merely pretenders in a mediocre division.

The winner of this game will have a big advantage in the division, and it's why the title will come down to the Titans and Colts.