The Colts are one win away from achieving their first goal of the 2014 season: Winning the AFC South. Standing in their way is the only other team that can win the South this year (or really most years), the Houston Texans. It's the home finale for the Colts, as they'll finish the season with back-to-back road games in Dallas and Tennessee, so a win Sunday (or in either of their final 2) means they'll get at least one more game in Lucas Oil Stadium, a place they're 5-2 this season.
I'm sure you've already heard it this week, and you'll undoubtedly hear it numerous times before Sunday both locally and on the national shows, but the Texans have never won in Indianapolis, a total of 12 games. While that streak obviously won't go on forever (I mean, Andrew Luck will retire eventually...), I'm not sure which side the pressure measures higher. The Texans obviously know they've never won here, have to hear about it constantly, so they will apply pressure on themselves on top of the trying-to-make-the-Playoffs pressure. The Colts, on the flip side, have to uphold the "legacy" of the previous 12 teams (including the 2-14 2011 team) in beating a pretty good team, again, at home. You can decide where you think the most pressure lies, but I think it's pretty comparable for both sides.
Injuries are a major storyline in almost every late-season game, and this one is no exception. It appears that Vontae Davis will be ready to go Sunday after sitting out last week with a concussion, which is great news. He may end up shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, however, as Colts-killer Andre Johnson left their game last week with a concussion of his own, and hasn't practiced yet. The Colts would catch a huge break if Johnson cannot go. The Colts secondary has also apparently been hit with the flu bug, as LeRon Landry, Sergio Brown, and Darius Butler have all missed practice time this week for being sick. The Colts Offensive Line was pretty beat up last week as well, so make sure to keep an eye on who's available.
We talked about the fact the Texans have never won in Indianapolis, but there are some other tidbits about playing division foes that also point to the Colts having a very good chance of winning Sunday. Since the start of 2012, the Colts are 14-2 against AFC South opponents, have never lost the 2nd game against either of the three teams in a given year, and are 12-2-2 Against the Spread against the Texans, Jaguars, and Titans. They're not only winning, but winning better than what the consensus Vegas opinion is at an unbelievable clip. As you may have heard in the past: Good teams win, Great teams cover.
How do these teams match-up for Sunday's game? Let's take a look at the stats and find out where it'll be won or lost.
Statistical Preview for the Colts and Texans (Adjusted):
|Orange Zone Eff||58.1%||10||56.3%||20||51.6%||20||50.5%||8|
|Avg Start Pos||30.0||16||27.3||2||29.0||22||31.1||24|
|3 and Outs||3.68||16||4.86||4||3.92||20||2.88||29|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.757||12||0.851||13||0.718||9||0.688||27|
Keys to the Game:
- It was a really bad sign when we saw the Colts turn the ball over against the Redskins, a team that can barely manage one turnover per game. Now the Colts face the Texans, who rank 3rd in the NFL in forcing Turnovers, and we can pretty much count on a couple of them Sunday. The key will be not allowing the Texans Defense to actually do the scoring (like the first time). In this game more than any other, if Luck is getting wrapped up by that J.J. Watt fellow, eat the ball and live to fight another day. No completely avoidable Turnovers and I'll be happy. It's sad that it's come to this, but here we are.
- The Texans are also very good in the Orange/Red Zone this season, but the Colts were even better back in Week 6. The Colts should be able to drive the ball between the 20s (the Texans aren't that strong in any of the drive stats), so scoring touchdowns is paramount. It will put the game away, something the Colts struggled with the first time around.
- T.Y. Hilton has put up ridiculous stats against the Texans: 31 catches for 611 yards and 6 TDs in just 5 games, an average of almost 20 yards per reception. You see the Texans rank 20th in Yards per Play, and we've seen the Colts air it out each and every week. The Texans can try to put multiple guys on him...all that will do is free up Donte Moncrief deep. Look for several deep shots.
- On the flip side, the Texans are a slightly above-average Offense that doesn't do anything really well, but doesn't do anything poorly. It's the ultimate "meh" Offense. We've seen them put up huge numbers against bad teams (who hasn't?), but we've also seen them do not much of anything against some of the better teams.
- People can take shots at Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the stats may be skewed from his six TD day, but the Texans rank 11th in ANPY/A. I know Ryan Mallett played two games, but Fitzpatrick has played 11 and hasn't been terrible. It helps having receivers like Johnson and Hopkins, so if he's without one of them they'll be pretty hamstrung, but he's certainly better than Bryan Hoyer or Colt McCoy.
- The Texans run game has been a far cry from what it was a year ago, but it didn't stop them from running all over the Colts the first time around. I expect to see heavy doses of Arian Foster and Alfred Blue Sunday, especially if Johnson is out. Can the Colts stop something they know is coming? Let's hope so.
I think this game, much like the first, will come down to the final minutes, mostly because the Colts turnovers will ensure the Texans hang around. At the end of the day, however, the difference at Quarterback escalates the later in the game it gets, and not many QBs are better than Andrew Luck late in games. The Colts move to 10-4 on the season, win the AFC South, and guarantee themselves a home Playoff game. Then they start rooting like crazy against the Patriots and Broncos (there's a chance, right?)
Colts 25, Texans 23