For the second time in three weeks the Colts will take on the Houston Texans, this time it'll be in the comfy digs of Lucas Oil Stadium, and as expected before the season, one of the teams has locked in a playoff position and the outcome won't matter going forward. What nobody expected, however, is that team would be the Colts, who have locked themselves into the #5 seed in the AFC Playoffs.
The Texans could have made this Sunday's game meaningless for them as well, but fell flat on their faces last week against the Vikings at home 23-6, which means they need to beat the Colts to clinch home-field advantage throughout the Playoffs. A loss will almost certainly mean they'll be playing next weekend in the Wild Card round, something unthinkable a couple weeks ago. That means the Texans will clearly be playing like any other week.
But will the Colts do the same? We've seen in the past, under the old regime, that once they couldn't improve their position, they shut it down, even when an undefeated season was on the line. Will it happen Sunday? Reggie Wayne doesn't think he should sit, and Chuck Pagano says 'it isn't in their DNA' to rest starters, so I'm guessing the Colts will be playing the role of spoiler, even if it would greatly benefit the Colts to have the Texans win Sunday, thus avoiding the Patriots and most likely the Broncos in the first two rounds.
Two weeks ago, it looked like the Colts were going to pull another late-game comeback towards the beginning of the 4th quarter, but it just wasn't meant to be, losing 29-17 in Houston, which gave the Texans the AFC South. Arian Foster had a huge second half, rushing for 165 yards in the game, and J.J. Watt cemented his candidacy for Defensive Player of the Year, sacking Andrew Luck three times and forcing a fumble. The talent level difference was clear, but that hasn't stopped the Colts from winning other games this year.
Want another reason for the Colts to try and win the game Sunday? They've never lost to the Texans at home, a perfect 10-0 all-time. Even last year, in the midst of their worst season in over a decade, they found a way to beat the division-winning Texans at home. Personally, I love the fact the Colts have never lost to them at home, and really hope it continues, even if it means a tougher road in the playoffs.
Let's see how the two teams stack up for their Week 17 battle:
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Texans (Adjusted):
|Orange Zone Eff||50.2%||23||58.6%||23||56.3%||13||54.9%||16|
|Avg Start Pos||26.7||32||27.9||3||30.1||17||30.8||21|
|3 and Outs||3.27||7||2.81||32||4.18||26||4.45||5|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.749||6||1.214||1||0.769||9||0.888||8|
Keys to the Game:
- Let's start with the Colts Offense, who really struggled to move the ball two weeks ago, and continued their struggles last week against a much, much worse Defense in the Chiefs. You can see the Texans rank in the top 5 in the NFL in several of the Defensive Drive Stat categories. The Colts will have to find a way to move the ball against one of the best in the NFL. Tall order.
- One area the Colts have excelled at all season is on 3rd/4th Down, except against the Texans, who lead the NFL. The Colts converted just 12.5% of their 3rd/4th downs two weeks ago, so they have two options: Convert more of those plays, or don't get into 3rd/4th downs. The Colts do many things poorly, but one of them can't be something they're actually good at.
- Along those same lines, the Colts have been excellent the second half of the season scoring touchdowns when they get close to the end zone, rather than field goals or even worse, nothing. That also didn't happen against the Texans, settling for a field goal once, and the next thing I'll talk about. Colts must convert all opportunities.
- The Colts only turned the ball over once, a huge fumble at the goal line by Mewelde Moore, but it obviously was too much against a really good team. Last week the Colts didn't turn the ball over, but still didn't do much on Offense. The Colts can't afford any Turnovers if they expect to win.
- I mentioned Arian Foster had a huge day two weeks ago, but didn't play much at all last week against the Vikings, due to an irregular heartbeat. He says everything is fine, but it's possible his production will drop this week. Either way, after the gashing the Colts Defense took from the Chiefs last week, I expect a heavy dose of Foster, Ben Tate, and Justin Forsett.
- The Texans pretty much moved the ball at will two weeks ago, scoring points on 6 of 9 drives. As the Colts Defense has done quite well as of late, they held them to five field goals, which kept the Colts in the game until the very end. Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak is one of the more conservative coaches in the NFL, so stopping them in the Orange/Red Zone will lead to them kicking field goals.
- The Colts also have a slight advantage on 3rd and 4th Down, as the Texans haven't really been that successful this season. The first time around it was right around their averages, so I expect it to be in the 38-40% range. It's just when those occur that will play a big part.
If you look at this game on paper, this shouldn't be a game at all. The Texans dominate in nearly every category, on both sides of the ball. They've already beaten this team two weeks ago, and desperately want to avoid playing again next weekend against the Bengals, which would be a rematch from the Playoffs a year ago.
I'm clearly a numbers guy, but this Colts team has convinced me that at some level, emotions can play a part in the NFL. With Chuck Pagano making his return to the sidelines this week, the fact that the Colts beat this team last year at home, and the fact they'll be playing full-out, the Colts will win this game on Sunday. I can't tell you why, but it'll be the storybook ending everyone has been writing for weeks now. I think they'd also like nothing more than to force these guys to play next weekend as well.
Colts 21, Texans 20