Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at Houston Texans (11-5)
Saturday, January 5 th , 4:35 pm EST.
If there’s a less respected eleven-win team in the NFL than the Texans, I’d like to know who they are. If not for the loss to the Patriots all the way back in week one, Houston would be the number two seed, looking at a bye week. As it stands, though, they’ll have to settle for a tiebreaking third tilt with a familiar foe, AFC South-mates the Colts this Wildcard Saturday. Houston has been somewhat uneven on offense, largely as a result of the inconsistency of veteran RB Lamar Miller, who can be tremendous one week, and wholly ineffectual the next. When he’s effective, it gives Deshaun Watson plenty of time to make use of the Texans most obvious weapon, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has more receiving yards than everyone in the league except for Julio Jones. The Watson to Hopkins dynamic has been very effective this season, combining for over 1,500 yards and eleven touchdowns. That being said, Houston hasn’t been lighting up the scoreboard, they’re only the eleventh-best team in the league on a PPG basis, but their defense, especially their fearsome pass rush helps balance the scales. Houston allowed the fourth fewest points per game in the NFL this season, at 19.8PPG allowed. A big part of that is the duo of J.J. Watt and Ja’daveon Clowney, who have combined for twenty- five sacks and over one hundred QB pressures, per NFL.com’s Next Gen stats.
Andrew Luck and the Colts need time to make their sixth-ranked passing offense work, so that duo may well hold the key to the matchup in their hands. Andrew Luck has come all the way back from the shoulder surgery that sidelined him for a whole season, finishing the season with the fifth-most passing yards in the league. T.Y. Hilton remains his primary target with almost thirteen-hundred yards for his QB while TE Eric Ebron has become a steady red zone target, hauling in a team-leading thirteen TD’s. The big change for the Colts, however, has been on the other side of the ball. The Colts have struggled mightily on defense for the past few years, and many folks (myself included) didn’t give them much chance to make the playoffs. We didn’t account for the emergence of rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, who led the NFL with 163 tackles this season, an effort that earned him All-Pro honors. That steady defensive presence roaming sideline to sideline has shored up a Colts defense that has struggled to get off the field for the past few years. The turnaround has been dramatic, with the unit going from twenty-ninth to tenth in points allowed.
Prediction: This matchup is about as tight as you can imagine, with both regular season games being decided by three points. There’s not a lot of reason to think that will change in this matchup. Indy has generated more buzz the past few weeks, but I’m not sure that there’s a lot of reason for that. I expect to see a tight, higher scoring game and a whirlwind finish. Houston leads late and sustains a last-minute charge by Andrew Luck and company to hold on.
Texans 28, Colts 24
EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Tom’s other playoff previews here
Image Source: AP