The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts will meet inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday for a pivotal AFC South matchup that will decide who takes over sole possession of first place in the division.
The 4-2 Texans currently reside in the top spot by just a half-game over the Colts after last week's impressive 31-24 win over the Chiefs on the road. The Houston offense has now scored 84 points over its last two games, thanks to the stellar play of quarterback Deshaun Watson and a supporting cast that has been hitting on all cylinders of late. To be fair, matchups against two of the worst defenses in the NFL played a role in that success as well. And life will get a little tougher for Watson and company on the road in Indianapolis this week, as the Texans look to create some space in the AFC South and exact a little revenge for last season's 21-7 playoff loss to the Colts.
Fresh off a bye, the well-rested Colts are just behind Houston at 3-2. And like the Texans, Indianapolis is carrying some momentum into Sunday's matchup, courtesy of their own upset victory over the Chiefs on the road in Week 5. Despite the Colts' overall lack of star power, they have relied on outstanding coaching, a potent run game, efficient quarterback play, and a "bend don't break" philosophy on defense to get the job done. But will that be enough to fend off the surging Texans on Sunday to take control of the AFC South?
Houston at Indianapolis
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct 20 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Colts -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Indianapolis passing game vs. Houston pass defense
Unlike Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett is not known for putting up monster stat lines most weeks. But when the matchup is right, the typically efficient game manager can find himself on the passing leaderboard. That could be the case on Sunday against a fairly generous Texans pass defense that ranks just 24th in the NFL in terms of passing yards allowed per game (268) and 23rd in touchdown passes surrendered (11).
Brissett's track record at home this season also bodes well for a solid performance on Sunday. He has passed for 310 and 265 yards respectively in two games in Lucas Oil Stadium with a total of five TD passes and just one interception. In three road games, Brissett has the same number of touchdown passes (5) to go along with two picks, and he has thrown for no more than 190 yards in any single contest.
Brissett also may have an ace up his sleeve on Sunday in the form of wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who has been a thorn in the side of the Texans his entire career. In 14 games against Houston, Hilton has averaged 103.2 receiving yards and 0.6 TDs per game. He also racked up 314 receiving yards in the two regular-season games against the Texans last season. And if this matchup wasn't already promising enough, Houston could be without its top two cornerbacks on Sunday, as Johnathan Joseph and Bradley Roby are both dealing with hamstring injuries.
2. A red-hot Deshaun Watson
Despite the favorable matchup for Jacoby Brissett, he will still be hard-pressed to keep pace with the red-hot Watson. Through six games, Watson has accumulated 1,644 passing yards, 164 rushing with 17 total touchdowns. He's the only player in the NFL currently in the top for touchdowns through the air (12, tied for fourth) and on the ground (5, tied for sixth). He's responsible for eight touchdowns (6 passing, 2 rushing) and thrown for 706 yards in his last two games alone.
On Sunday, Watson will be paired against a middle-of-the-road Colts defense that allows 242 passing yards per game. However, when you dig a little deeper, the matchup gets even better. Indianapolis ranks 26th in the league in completion percentage allowed (69.8), 25th in TD passes allowed (10), and 29th in passer rating allowed (108). The Colts have just two interceptions through five games and no one on the defense has more than one pass defended. That also bodes well for one of the best receiving corps in the league, led by the dynamic duo of DeAndre Hopkins (40 rec., 402 yards, 2 TDs) and Will Fuller (33, 444, 3).
The only real concern could be an Indianapolis pass rush that racked up 12 sacks against Watson in the two regular-season games last season. That total accounted for 32 percent of the Colts' entire sack output for the regular season. And while Watson has not been sacked in each of the last two games, he has gone down 18 times this season, which puts him sixth among quarterbacks. Houston's offensive line also will be without starting right tackle and first-round pick Tytus Howard (knee) on Sunday.
3. Which team has the edge in the run game?
Indianapolis' ground attack is among the best in the league, averaging 142 rushing yards per game to rank fourth. Running behind a stout offensive line, Marlon Mack has already gained 470 yards on the ground and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
However, upon further inspection, you will find that the Colts' have primarily feasted on really bad run defenses. Oddly enough, they also have struggled to find success on the ground at home -- rushing for just 81 yards against a top-10 Raiders run defense in Week 4 and gaining 79 yards vs. the Falcons in Week 3. Houston enters Sunday ranked eighth in the NFL in run defense, giving up just 88 rushing yards per game. So will Indianapolis struggles to gain ground at home continue?
On the other side, the Texans are fifth in the league in rushing offense with 140 yards per game. Houston has relied on running backs Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson as well as Watson to move the chains on the ground. Hyde and Watson are responsible for all eight of the Texans' rushing touchdowns thus far as well.
While Houston has also feasted on a few cupcake defenses on the ground, the Texans have been more consistent running the ball compared to the Colts. Houston has been held to under 126 rushing yards in a game just once this season and has scored at least once on the ground in all six games.
The Texans will put their ground game up against an Indianapolis rush defense that falls in the middle of the rankings. The Colts are giving up 113.2 rushing yards per game (19th) but are yielding 5.1 yards per carry (29th). The defense will get a huge boost in the return of All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, who has been out a month because of a concussion.
There are plenty of reasons to like the Colts in this matchup, which probably explains why they are favored. To name a few -- they are fresh off a bye, have home-field advantage, are well-coached and most importantly are a very resilient football team.
However, the red-hot Texans make their way to Indianapolis riding a huge wave of momentum with an offense hitting on all cylinders. Houston appears to have the edge on the ground, which helps neutralize Indy's biggest strength. And while it's hard not to like Jacoby Brissett's chances for success in this matchup, it's unlikely that he will be able to outduel Deshaun Watson to pick up the slack in the passing game. The surging Texans earn a hard-fought victory on the road to claim sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
Prediction: Texans 27, Colts 24
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.