With the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans squaring off on Thursday Night Football the AFC South landscape is wide open for a showcase matchup between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts. The Colts loss in Jacksonville has taken some of the importance away from this game but there is still plenty to play for. The division is no longer realistically at stake. The Texans have a three game lead over the Colts with just four games remaining. Even if the Colts won this week they would need the Texans to lose two of their next three games. Even then the two teams would be tied and it would come down to tie breaks.
Playoffs scenarios at stake
Their playoff chances could be drastically reduced with a loss in this game. Not only would the division be completely gone but they would be behind two teams for the #6 seed as well. The Titans moved to 7-6 with victory over the Jaguars and the worst the Ravens can be after this week is 7-6. In addition, if the Ravens win and the Colts lose then they would be two games out of the #6 seed with just three games remaining. However, win this game and the Colts remain right in the hunt with three weeks remaining.
For the Texans it is a conversation about seeding for the playoffs. It would take a disaster for them not to win the division so it is a case of which of the top four seeds will they be. Right now they are tied on record at 9-3 with the Patriots. However, due to losing in New England in Week 1 they are currently the #3 seed. I do not think it is likely the Patriots or Chiefs lose more than another one game and at most two. Therefore, they realistically need to win out for a bye and a home divisional round game.
Perhaps more interesting is that they are now one game ahead of the Steelers for the #3 seed. That seeding is crucial because whoever is #4 would have to host the Chargers, or the Chiefs, in the Wildcard. After that it will not be easy going to either Kansas City or New England but avoiding the Chargers/Chiefs in the Wildcard game is important. If the Chargers were to steal the AFC West and finish as the #2 seed then being the #3 seed and going to LA for the divisional round would be significantly easier than if they are the #4 seed and had to beat the Chiefs before then potentially going to New England.
Are either team for real?
For a period of time there the Colts looked really good. They had won five games in a row prior to the shutout against the Jaguars last week. However, the teams they had beaten were the Bills, Raiders, Jaguars, Titans and Dolphins. Only one of those teams is currently above .500 and they only got there Thursday night. With the Texans and Cowboys in the next two weeks we are going to learn a lot about the Colts
This is a really difficult question. They are currently on a nine game winning streak after losing their first three. However, their win streak has not been hugely impressive. The Colts were just working it out when they beat them in Week 4. Even then they only won because of a bold call from Frank Reich in overtime which backfired. Week 5 they beat a Cowboys team at home who do not really resemble the current Cowboys team. They only beat the Bills at home in Week 7 thanks to a Nathan Peterman Pick-6 after he came into the game for Josh Allen. They then handled the woeful Jaguars in Jacksonville.
The win over Miami in Week 9 was a home Thursday Night Football game. In that game the Dolphins folded in the second half on the road on a short week. Week 10 in Denver they only won because Vance Joseph and the Broncos did everything they could to hand them the victory. Week 12 they crept past a Redskins team who lost Alex Smith during the game.
The last two weeks have been more impressive but both came against up-and-down teams in the form of the Titans and Browns. After this game they may not be tested much down the stretch if things continue to break right. Therefore, we may not know the answer to this question until crunch time and the playoffs!
The run game
So now we have a 700 word introduction out of the way let’s actually preview the game. The run game is going to be massive in this matchup. The Texans have committed to the run game this season and rank in the top three in rushing attempts and rushing yards. Over the last six weeks they have averaged 172.33 rushing yards per game and 234 rushing yards in the last two weeks. I do not see that game plan changing this week because they have found the thing their offensive line is good at and they are using it to set up the rest of their offence. The Colts actually rank quite high against the run this season and they are going to need those skills this week if they are to win this game on the road.
When the Colts run game has clicked this year their offence has looked superb. It has given Luck extra time to pass and reduced the pressure on him. The overall numbers on the season are not great but they really struggled in the first five weeks. Additionally, the Texans have been good against the run this season so if the Colts can have success then it would be massive for them. Getting the run game going would really help them slow down a very good Texans pass rush.
The passing game
This one is interesting for the Texans. The total numbers do not look great but there are some good underlying stats. They rank ninth in the league in net yards per attempt but 22nd in total passing yards and 27th in pass attempts. They have only really thrown when they have needed too and it has been working for them. The reason for that is that their offensive line has struggled in pass protection this season. Therefore, they have ran the ball and then worked off that run game to set up the pass. So far it has been working but if someone can disrupt the run game I have concerns that this passing game will just crumble.
The Colts rank second in pass attempts and passing touchdowns as well as 10th in passing yards. Their efficiency has not been great, as they rank 15th in net passing yards per attempt and they rank 23rd in the league with 12 interceptions. They are going up against a pass defence which can give up yards, but has a great pass rush and is also opportunistic, with 12 interceptions. On the road not turning the ball over is crucial and that will be the key for the passing game. If they can get run and pass working perfectly together then they can slow the pass rush and Luck should be able to pick elements of this defence apart.
The injury bug has struck again for the Colts. On this weeks injury report are all of the Luck’s main receiving weapons. Eric Ebron, T.Y. Hilton and Dontrelle Inman are all hugely important for this offence. If two or three of them are missing I just do not think Luck will have enough trustworthy weapons for the offence to operate. If he has two of them I think he can compete with the Texans this week. The injury report Sunday morning is going to be huge for how this game might turn out.
This game opened with the Texans 4.5 point favourites. It has since moved to five points and that may be in some part due to the Colts injuries. If there is an indication that the majority of Luck’s weapons can play I would look to take the Colts as I think there is actually a shot they could win the game. If they are not active then I would take the Texans. This is a bet I will be waiting until Sunday morning to make. The over/under on the game is around 50 points and again that depends on the weapons available to Luck. If the majority are available I see this having the potential to be a 30-27 game and I would lean to the over. If they are out then I would absolutely take the under as I think the Texans win reasonably handily while scoring in the mid-20s.
Image credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports