The Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans have combined to win the last six AFC South titles, and barring a miraculous close to the season by the Jacksonville Jaguars, one of these two will claim the division again this year. That winner will likely be whomever comes out on top of next week’s tilt at Lucas Oil Stadium.
If the Colts win, they’ll have claimed the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Texans, essentially setting them two games back (assuming the two enter next week with identical records).
But that’s just one of many assumptions one has to make about this game. Another is that the Colts are right about quarterback Andrew Luck’s timeline, and that he will be ready to return from a lacerated kidney in time for next week. If not, it will be Matt Hasselbeck calling the shots again (or Charlie Whitehurst, perish the thought). The 40-year-old Hasselbeck led the Colts to a 27-20 win in Houston back in Week 5.
However, that game marked the turning point in the Texans’ season. After Ryan Mallett was knocked out of the game early in the second quarter, Brian Hoyer came in and delivered. Since then, the Texans have gone 5-2 (with Hoyer missing one start to injury). In fact, they also won the final three quarters of that Colts game, 20-17. Will Hoyer be able to stretch that performance over 60 minutes next week?
Of course, the real reason that Houston is back in the conversation is the resurgence of their defense. Since November, they’ve limited opponents to just 13 points a game and generated 17 sacks and eight takeaways.
The Colts proved last week that, with Hasselbeck under center, they aren’t going to light up the scoreboard. Luck may have been reckless with the ball this season but he also gives this offense the best chance to succeed, especially if the run game is going to continue to falter; Indy has failed to rush for 100 yards in three straight games.
The Texans, despite having a full-blown committee at running back, have stayed committed to the ground attack, averaging 100 yards a game. Combined with the unbelievable plays DeAndre Hopkins makes in the passing game, this Houston offense actually ranks 13th in yards per game.
Houston has all the pieces to beat the Colts, but this game will really hinge on how Andrew Luck plays. In his first return from injury this season, Luck completed 60-percent of his passes for 312 yards, three touchdowns, and no turnovers (one of just two turnover-free games this year). Another showing like that would put the Colts well on the way to beating the Texans for the seventh straight game.
But this is a hungry Houston group which hasn’t beaten Luck since his rookie year, and that should prove to be extra motivation for J.J. Watt and company. I think regardless of who’s under center next week, the Texans deserve a look: they’re 5-2 against the spread in their last seven.
Straight-up pick: Texans.
(Photo Credit: Angie Six (Originally uploaded to Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/].)