The Indianapolis Colts host the Houston Texans on Sunday for control of the AFC South. The winner will hold the inside track for a division title and a spot in the playoffs.
The Colts and Texans both sit at 6-6, in dire need of a win to make a late season push for the postseason. The Texans have only won once in Indianapolis their entire existence, and that was when the Colts were down to no quarterbacks (they couldn’t even win in 2011, the gas leak year).
A win for either team doesn’t lock up the division, but it does give the winner a considerable edge going into the final weeks of the season.
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This game wouldn’t be nearly so important if the Colts had a slightly better defense. Or a different head coach (who maybe didn’t have blind faith in said defense). The Colts had the Texans dead to right in Houston back in October but couldn’t finish the job. That was hardly the only game this team should have won in the first half of the season.
There was the defensive trust against Detroit in Week 1, which led to the Lions moving the ball 50 yards in 30 seconds for a game winning field goal. And there was the defensive collapse in London against a terrible Jaguars team.
Both games also featured the patented slow offensive start that Chuck Pagano has been so fond of, but at least the offense has found its way since then. Andrew Luck and company have lit up three of their last four opponents, scoring an average of 32 points with Luck on the field. And two of those games were on the road.
The Colts offense is going to have to be efficient considering the Texans talented defense. They currently rank 13th in defensive efficiency, and are likely getting Jadeveon Clowney back on the field this week to bolster their pass rush.
MVP. Provided the Colts win and Luck plays well, he has to enter the MVP conversation. He’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season and is carrying a mediocre roster (at best) to a possible playoff berth. This is an off year for the award with no one player standing above the rest. Luck is fresh off one of his best games as a pro. Last week he had just six incompletions, and of those: one was defended, one batted at the line, and two were dropped. He truly missed receivers just twice against the Jets. If he can carry just a half that efficiency against the Texans (who may be without some of their starting secondary), it will be a long afternoon for the visitors.
Ghost.T.Y. Hilton has a history of roasting the Texans and has been doing the same thing to the rest of the league in 2016. He’s nearly salvaged the Colts season all by himself with multiple game winning touchdowns (OK, Luck may have helped a little bit). Hilton has been one of the best receivers in the NFL this season, ranking top five in total value and second in receiving yardage to Julio Jones. Pro Football Focus has Hilton ranked sixth in their player grades as well. Some have said that Hilton isn’t a number one wide receiver, they might want to take that back.
Defense? Will the Colts be able to stop the Texans this week? Houston ranks 31st in efficiency, while the Colts rank 30th on defense (bumped up a spot thanks to the ineptitude of the Jets). It is basically weakness vs weakness. Both sides know the implications of this game but the Colts are likely to be without some starters on that side of the ball, namely Clayton Geathers (neck), Robert Mathis (bicep), and D’Qwell Jackson (PEDs). The Colts have to off to a hot start, because this unit doesn’t have the ability right now (or ever) for them to play catch-up.
The winner on Sunday essentially goes up a game and a half on the AFC South. The Colts have a tough slate down the stretch and less room for error while the Texans remaining schedule is manageable.
at Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
at Oakland Raiders (10-3)
vs Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
vs Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
vs Cincinnati Bengals (4-7)
at Tennessee Titans (6-6)
The Texans schedule is slightly easier, with fewer teams fighting for playoff contention (the Vikings still have a shot at the postseason, especially after they beat the Jaguars this weekend).
The Colts will have to go at least 2-2 down the stretch and even that might not be enough to make the playoffs. They have to win the division to get there too. It all starts this Sunday, hopefully they won’t let the Texans hang around this time.