Colts vs. Texans: A Matchup Preview with the AFC South Title on the Line

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistDecember 13, 2012

If Luck wants to win the rookie of the year award, he needs a win this week.
If Luck wants to win the rookie of the year award, he needs a win this week.Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC South was supposed to be settled a long time ago.

Against all odds, the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans are playing a meaningful game at Reliant Stadium in Week 15.

Here's everything you need to know about the matchup that wasn't supposed to matter.


What It Means

If the Texans win, they lock up the AFC South Title and take another step toward the top overall seed in the AFC.

If Houston loses, the threat level rises to DEFCON 1 for the Texans. Their recent struggles will look more like systemic flaws and less like normal battle fatigue.

Indianapolis knows that a win punches its playoff dance card, but it likely does more than that.

Beating Houston in Houston would be the first impressive win for Indianapolis since early October. It would go a long way toward announcing it as a real playoff threat.

Additionally, it would keep Indy alive in the hunt for the AFC South crown. If the Colts win out, they will take the division title, playoff home game and even a potential playoff bye.

Given where everyone expected this team to be in August, the fact that those things remain possible with three weeks to play easily qualifies as the story of the year.


Matchup to Watch

J.J. Watt versus some random combination of Joe Reitz, Winston Justice, Jeff Linkenbach, Mike McGlynn, Tony Hills and possibly a stray chihuahua

Watt is the most spectacular defender on the planet at this moment.

The right side of the Colts line is so banged up it has become an amorphous blob seeking to stop defenders by osmosis.

Watt will typically line up on the right side, though he's been known to move around.

It's still a major question which guards and tackles he'll be taking on.

Reitz and Justice are the starters. Reitz has been practicing all week, but Justice has been forced to sit.

He'll likely be spelled by the immortal Likenbach, though Hills took a snap at tackle against Tennessee.

The point is that unless your name is Mrs. McGlynn, you've probably never heard of any of these NFL starters.

Let's just say they'll have their hands full.

Watt can single-handedly destroy any hope the Colts have of pulling an upset, so unless this rag-tag band of rebels can figure out how to stop the game's best defender, it could be a long day for the Colts.


Stat That Matters

The Texans are third in the NFL in turnover margin. The Colts are 30th.

How big of a gap is there between the two teams?

If you doubled the Indianapolis takeaways for the season, it'd still be minus-six in turnover differential.

If you then doubled the Texans' turnovers on offense, they'd still be plus-one as a team.


Biggest Advantage for the Colts

All the pressure is on Houston.

Let's face it, if the Colts lose, they'll probably still go to the playoffs and will likely still be the five seed. That's found money when it comes to preseason hopes. Anything else they do now is gravy.

The Texans can feel their hopes of a dominant run to New Orleans slipping away. Suddenly, they are at risk of not only losing the top seed to the Patriots, but the division and a home game as well.

The crowd will be vocal, but if the game stays close for longer than it should, fans will start to get restless.

The Colts can play loose and free, and that's a huge advantage.


Biggest Advantage for the Texans

They are better than the Colts in every measurable way.

OK, not every way. Indy should have a nice punt return game on it, but in most every other respect, the Texans are just the better team.

They run better.

They pass better.

They stop the pass better.

They stop the run better.

They. Are. Better.

(And it's not particularly close)


Best Video Only Tangentially Related to the Game

As I cover both of these teams, I refuse to poke fun at either one. Instead, allow me celebrate the return of one of the greatest shows of all-time.


Indianapolis Will Win If... can protect Andrew Luck.

The Texans can be had with deep passes, and oh brother, the Colts love them the deep passes.

The problem is that the Colts just don't have the offensive line to cope with the Texans pass rush.

In some respects, it doesn't matter how many points the Texans score. Houston can win with 17, 27 or 37 points. What will determine the outcome of this game is how many points the Colts can put up.

If they protect Luck and give him time to throw, they have a chance to hang a Henne-like point total on the Texans.


Houston Will Win If... shows up locked in.

When it is on, Houston is still a force to reckoned with. As long as it shows up focused and takes the Colts seriously, it should comfortably prove who the best team in the AFC South is.

Houston ought to win this game. That's no guarantee that it will, but it has the better squad.


There are paths to victory for the Colts in this game, but most of them involve Houston simply not playing well.

The Texans aren't the unbeatable juggernaut they appear to be, but then again, Indianapolis isn't as good as its record either.

Winning would be a real accomplishment for the Colts, but it's probably a bridge they aren't ready to cross.

Houston is simply better at every aspect of football, and it is playing at home.

Texans 35 Colts 17


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