A little over a month ago, it looked like a lost season for Indianapolis after the Colts were walloped at home 30-14 by the Chiefs in Week 8. But since that loss, Indianapolis has come alive, winning three out of its last four, their only loss coming at the hands of the Steelers on Thanksgiving night, in a game that quarterback Andrew Luck did not play in due to a concussion. With Luck in the lineup the Colts’ offense has looked explosive, scoring 96 points in their last three wins, keeping the Indy in the thick of the AFC South race.
At start of the season it looked like the division was Houston’s to win once again. But much has changed with the Texans losing three in a row as Indianapolis and Tennessee have the same 6-6 record as Houston. The addition of Brock Osweiler was supposed to solidify the Texans as an upcoming force. Instead, Osweiler has struggled to find his footing running the offense, which has become Houston’s most glaring weakness.
Sunday’s matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium has major playoff implications with three teams tied with just four games remaining. The winner will take over the driver’s seat in the division, which is important since the two leaders for the wild card spots are at two and four games clear of their AFC South peers.
Houston at Indianapolis
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Indianapolis -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Osweiler Missing the Mark
To be frank, the Houston offense has been flat out bad in 2016. The Texans haven’t scored more than 20 points in eight different games this season, rank 30th in yards per play (4.8), 28th in turnover margin (-9), and 28th in points per game (17.2). Much of this falls on the play of quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Houston signed Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract this past offseason, with $32 million guaranteed and a $12 million signing bonus after Denver let him walk. For a $12 million cap hit this season, Houston has gotten a QB that has completed just 59 percent of his passes, has nearly as many touchdowns (14) as interceptions (13), and ranks second to last in the NFL in passer rating (74.2). Osweiler’s shortcomings have negated Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ impact this season, who enters this game with 58 catches for 668 yards and four touchdowns.
Now we know why Broncos general manager John Elway let Osweiler walk. Good call, John.
2. Red-Hot Luck
It’s not a secret. The Colts go as Andrew Luck goes — as evidenced by the 28-7 Thanksgiving Night beating from the Steelers when he was sidelined because of a concussion. In recent weeks, Luck has been red hot, and so has the Colts’ offense. As previously mentioned, Indianapolis has scored 96 points in its last three wins. In those games, Luck has totaled 821 passing yards with seven touchdowns.
It could be that Luck is getting hot at just the right time, as the Colts have forced a virtual three-way tie in the AFC South. But Indianapolis must keep the momentum going with games against Minnesota, Oakland and Jacksonville remaining. And that means Luck needs to stay hot, and healthy.
3. Ailing Texans D
As if facing a swelling Colts offense wasn’t enough to handle, the Houston defense is in shambles — and it’s not just because J.J. Watt is not playing. The Texans could be without their best cover cornerback, Johnathan Joseph (questionable with a rib injury), on Sunday, leaving Kareem Jackson, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury, to cover the explosive T.Y. Hilton, Luck’s favorite target.
But it’s not just the Texans’ secondary that is ailing. The front seven is banged up as well. Mr. Play Everywhere, Jadeveon Clowney, isn’t 100 percent after missing last week’s game in Green Bay with wrist and elbow injuries that have been plaguing him all season. Linebacker Brian Cushing is questionable because of a back injury and nose tackle Vince Wilfork has been limited in practice because of a groin issue.
With Houston’s defense banged up as it is, the Texans’ depth will be tested and they may not be able to put pressure on Luck or force enough turnovers to make an impact on this game. Sunday could be a long, long day for defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and his charges.
The best recipe for a Houston victory on Sunday is to run the ball effectively against Indianapolis’ battered defense. The last time these two teams met, both the Colts’ Frank Gore and the Texans’ Lamar Miller ran for more than 100 yards. Can either do it again? Don’t be surprised if it happens. Both defenses are suffering from injuries and both struggle at stopping the run in the first place. With a healthy Andrew Luck leading Indianapolis’ offense, Houston could be in a world of hurt and on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture.
Prediction: Colts 30, Texans 24
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
(Brock Osweiler photo courtesy of www.houstontexans.com)