For the most part, since the advent of the Bill O'Brien Era in 2014, the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts have traveled roughly the same course year to year. In O'Brien's opening season, the Colts went 11-5, while the Texans went 9-7 while improving by seven games over the prior season, so both finished over .500. Same general direction.
Then, the space between the two franchises became air tight. For four straight seasons, 2015 through 2018, they finished the season within a game of each other. Even in 2019, when the late season slide sent the Colts careening to 7-9, they split the two games they played. Until the game back in Week 13 of this season, and going back to 2015, the regular season record between the Colts and Texans was 5-5 and the average score was Colts 22, Texans 21.
Even the game two weeks ago was close, with the Colts escaping 26-20 after a Nick Martin bad snap dashed the hopes of a 27-26 Texans' comeback. Big picture, though, despite the close shave at NRG Stadium two weeks ago, these are two franchises headed in opposite directions. The Colts are 9-4 and contending for an AFC South title. The Texans are 4-9 and coming off a 29-point blowout at the hands of team that had lost six in a row.
So what will we see this Sunday in Indy? That's where we begin this week's things to watch for....
4. Can the Texans bounce back?
My biggest concern heading into last week's game against the Bears was "How would they respond to having their season essentially ended by the disaster against the Colts in Week 13?" Well, we got our answer. They responded like a roomful of grade school kids who'd been told Christmas was cancelled. They were a bunch of zombies out there. J.J. Watt called it an "embarrassing" performance. so how do they respond to embarrassment? Do the Texans come out swinging and trying to get a signature win in a disappointing campaign, or does the mere sight of the team that was on the other side of that catastrophe two Sundays ago shock them into the doldrums once again? For what it's worth, I'm not sure Romeo Crennel is the "hell, fire, and brimstone" type to scoop his team off the mat. I'm nervous about another trouncing.
3. Will one side of the ball decide to start fast? PLEASE?
One reason I am nervous about this game is because, if history is any indicator, the Texans will put themselves in a hole on both sides of the ball before deciding to start playing with the appropriate amount of focus and verve. On offense, they will try avoid punting for only the second time all season on an opening possession, and on defense, they will try to avoid allowing a touchdown on the opposing team's opening drive for just the second time since Week 7. For critics of this coaching staff — and at this point, are there any people left who AREN'T critics of this coaching staff — there's your most dating evidence that this team is poorly coached.
2. Philip Rivers renaissance
Coming into the season, and honestly through the first five games of the season, Rivers was viewed as more of a hindrance to winning than a reason to believe the Colts could win at a high level. He was an upgrade to Jacoby Brissett, last year's starter, but so is just about every other starting QB in the league. However, over the last right games, the Colts are 6-2 and Rivers has a passer rating of 101.5. More importantly, he is protecting the football at a high level, tossing 16 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Add in the fact that T.Y. Hilton is rapidly returning to "favorite target" status and Hilton is going against his favorite opponent, and this could be a good day to own Rivers in your fantasy leagues.
1. Where do the targets go?
On the offensive side of things for the Texans, we know how they are going to try to move the ball — they will use Deshaun Watson's right arm and two legs until all three limbs fall off, because they are horrendous at running the football. With Brandin Cooks still banged up, and Will Fuller (suspension) and Randall Cobb (toe) done for the year, expect more Keke Coutee and Chad Hansen, which I am perfectly fine with. Let's see what these guys can do. Also, it would be nice to see third year tight end Jordan Akins reestablish himself. Through the first four games of the season, Akins was a healthy 14 catches for 168 yards. Then he was concussed by Harrison Smith of the Vikings, and since then, he has played in six games, with just 13 catches for 137 yards.
SPREAD: Texans +7
PREDICTION: Colts 38, Texans 17
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