Deshaun Watson and the Texans host the Colts in this playoff matchup of AFC South rivals
The Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans had similar regular seasons. Both teams had rocky starts to the year — Colts (1-5) and Texans (0-3) — before going on impressive winning streaks.
Before it was all said and done, the divisional foes from the AFC South each finished with 10 or more wins. The Texans (11-5) did manage to edge out the Colts (10-6) by one game, but the two regular-season matchups between them were split 1-1.
What’s makes things more interesting is that both teams won on the road by exactly three points. Does that mean that Indianapolis actually has the advantage in this game despite having to travel to NRG Stadium in Houston?
While these two teams have faced each other 34 times because they are division rivals, this will be their postseason encounter.
Indianapolis at Houston
Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 5 at 4:35 p.m. ET
Spread: Houston -1.5
1. Andrew Luck vs. Deshaun Watson, Part III
The flow of the regular season isn’t the only thing the Colts and Texans have in common. As opposed to the other two teams in the AFC South, the two making an appearance in the playoffs have a consistent, franchise quarterback in place.
In other words, the most important position on the field is already taken care of, which makes a path to the postseason a lot easier.
The statistical success that each of these quarterbacks has seen against the other’s defense is fairly significant. Luck has thrown for 863 yards and six touchdowns while only tossing one interception in the first two meetings. Watson hasn’t been quite that impressive, but he’s still put up 719 total yards (642 passing, 77 rushing) and four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). The Clemson product has also completed 70 percent of his passes over those two performances.
If either team’s quarterback struggles, that could cause a lopsided victory in the other’s favor.
2. Which team's offensive line can hold up the best?
If there’s one stark difference between the Colts and the Texans, it’s been the performance of the offensive lines. Indianapolis made a commitment in the offseason to get more protection for Luck, while the Texans – for the most part – continued to neglect the issue after missing out on left tackle Nate Solder in free agency.
The results have been significant, especially in the two matchups that these teams have already had. Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith have contributed to a unit that went on a five-game streak without giving up a sack. Against Houston, the Colts yielded did four sacks in the first game, but only surrendered two in the second.
Houston’s offensive line has been the polar opposite. On the season, this group has given up 62 sacks, which is the most in the NFL. Included in those were 12 courtesy of Indianapolis in just two games with Denico Autry (four), Darius Leonard and Margus Hunt (two each) particularly involved. Some of those fall on Watson holding onto the ball for too long, but there’s no doubt this unit is one of – if not – the worst in the league.
3. Colts have been hotter down the stretch
Houston and Indianapolis went toe-to-toe for the second time back in Week 14. It was a hard-fought battle, but the Colts left NRG Stadium with a 27-24 win.
Since then, they’ve outscored their opponents by an average score of 28-15. Included in that stretch was a 23-0 home shutout of NFC East champion Dallas. And Indianapolis punched its playoff ticket with a 16-point road win in Tennessee in Week 17 that pushed Luck’s record to 11-0 against the Titans during his career.
With four straight wins, the Colts and the Chicago Bears have the longest current winning streaks in the NFL, so Indianapolis could be viewed as one of the most dangerous teams in the AFC bracket. Houston’s success shouldn’t be ignored, however. Despite losing 32-20 in Philadelphia in Week 16, the Texans went 10-2 after starting the season 0-4. They closed out the regular season with a convincing 20-3 victory over the Jaguars.
It’s going to be interesting to see which team continues to carry its momentum into this game.
This game should be one of the better ones during Wild Card Weekend. It features a pair of division rivals, led by two high-profile quarterbacks going head-to-head to determine whose team gets to keep its Super Bowl hopes alive.
Can J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of Houston’s defensive front seven be the difference-maker in this game? Forcing Indianapolis’ offense to being one-dimensional hasn’t exactly put a strain on Andrew Luck this season, but the playoffs are a different style of football.
At the end of the day, the Colts do a better job of protecting their franchise signal-caller and give him enough time to make plays. The over/under has steadily increased to 48.5, which seems to be a hair too much, especially since I think the road team ends up winning.
Prediction: Colts 27, Texans 21
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.