The Houston Texans come to Indianapolis well aware that, to them, this game is like a playoff game. The 7-6 Texans have one game to extend their slim chances at winning the AFC South for another week or two. For the Colts, it's simple: win and you're in. With a win Sunday in their regular season home finale, the Colts (9-4) would clinch their second consecutive AFC South division title. It's the second of two match ups this season against the only two teams in the AFC South that don't dwell among the very bottom of the weekly NFL power rankings and it could be viewed as the single biggest matchup within the division this year (which isn't saying a lot). With all that said, let's take a look at the preview for the game.
What Happened Last Week?
The Colts didn't look good, but they got a road win over a team with a winning record in December - that counts for something. The Colts gave the Browns two defensive touchdowns but Indy's offense got things going in the second half, coming back from a double-digit second-half deficit to win on an Andrew Luck touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton with 32 seconds left. The Colts' offense looked bad for much of the game, however, as they turned the ball over four times, allowed three sacks, had a number of dropped passes, and once again had Luck as their leading rusher. In the end, Luck (who finished with 337 total yards and three total touchdowns) and Hilton (who caught 10 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns) helped the offense out of their slump and to a win in a game that the defense did a great job to keep close.
The Texans also trailed at halftime, as they were down 13-10 on the road to the Jaguars, but 17 unanswered second half points propelled the Texans to a 27-13 victory. Arian Foster rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5.3 yards per carry while J.J. Watt recorded three sacks, four tackles for loss, a pass defensed, and five quarterback hits. Houston improved to 7-6 on the season and 3-1 against the AFC South (with the lone loss in the division coming earlier in the year to the Colts).
Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Texans Defense
There are actually two big match ups to watch for this Sunday's game when it comes to the Colts' offense: T.Y. Hilton versus the Texans' secondary and J.J. Watt versus the Colts' offensive line. When I was on with a Houston-area radio station this week, I was asked which of those two was the biggest matchup, and I'll say here the same thing I did then: it's J.J. Watt against the Colts' line. There's no doubt that Hilton has enjoyed incredible success against the Texans in his short career. In five games against Houston, Hilton has caught 31 passes for 611 yards and six touchdowns - averaging 122.2 yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game. Houston has yet to show any semblance of being able to stop Hilton, so that's certainly a matchup to watch. But moreso is the Colts' line as they try to stop the best defensive player on the planet in J.J. Watt - especially given this afternoon's report from Phillip B. Wilson that the Colts plan on starting Lance Louis at right guard - an inexplicable move, really. The Colts could very well have three linemen who have struggled mightily this year in center Jonotthan Harrison, right guard Lance Louis, and right tackle Gosder Cherilus. They'll have their hands full trying to stop Watt. Basically, the Colts just need to double team him every play. They can't just leave a guy one-on-one with J.J. Watt. The Texans' second-leading sacker, Whitney Mercilus, will be out Sunday against the Colts, giving Indy even more of an excuse to double-team Watt (as if they needed another reason). We'll be watching the two best players in the AFC South play on Sunday (also the two best players in the NFL 25 years old or younger). Hopefully the Colts will keep Andrew Luck upright and not allow Watt to terrorize Luck all afternoon. The Colts won't be able to totally stop J.J. Watt, but they need to do whatever they can to limit his effectiveness (much easier said than done).
Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Texans Offense
Andre Johnson has yet to pass the concussion protocol and Ryan Fitzpatrick will be at quarterback - so it's pretty clear that the matchup to watch comes from Arian Foster facing the Colts' rush defense. Foster has seen at least one carry in six different games against the Colts - in all but one of them he has rushed for more than 100 yards (and in the other he notched 96 yards rushing). He's rushed for 861 yards and 8 touchdowns against the Colts while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. In other words, he's averaging 143.5 yards rushing and 24.5 yards receiving while scoring 1.3 touchdowns in every game against the Colts - totaling an average of 168 yards every time he plays the Colts. Earlier this year, he rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries while adding three catches for 32 yards against the Colts. Indy's run defense actually has done well statistically this year in most games, but they're still not a strong team against the run - as evidenced in the first Texans game but more dramatically in the Patriots game. If Houston gives Foster carries on Sunday (and they'd be stupid not to), he'll have success against the Colts. For Indy, it's all about limiting that success (easier said than done).
Why the Colts Will Win
The game is in Indianapolis, and in case you needed reminding, the Texans have never won in Indy, going 0-12 all-time. The Colts have the league's number one ranked offense and in the first matchup against the Texans, the Colts racked up 456 yards and 33 points. With Andrew Luck at quarterback, they'll score some points. And they're built to outscore the Texans, so as long as the Colts don't have a repeat of last Sunday's horrible offensive performance, they should be ok.
Why the Colts Won't Win
The last time the Colts played the Texans, I said that it would be up to J.J. Watt, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson to beat them - and they nearly did. This time, it seems like Johnson will likely be out, but it'll still be up to Watt and Foster - Houston's two best players. If they take over the game like we know they're capable of doing, the Texans will be in the game until the end and could pull out the win.
This one will be a close battle between division rivals. I think it will be a back-and-forth kind of game and one in which the Colts might be plagued by their recent slow starts. Arian Foster will do some damage, as well as J.J. Watt. But with Andrew Luck at quarterback no one has really been able to stop Indy's offense completely this year and I don't expect the Texans to do so on Sunday. I'm taking the Colts in a close one.
Colts 30, Texans 27
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