Will the Texans clinch the division title this week?
When the schedule was released back in April, no one thought that the Texans vs. Colts game in week 15 would have division title implications. The Texans won their first division title and first playoff game last season and were widely seen as a team on the rise that would control the division for the next several seasons. On the other end, the Colts lost their franchise quarterback and most assumed they would go through a rebuilding process and wouldn't be ready to contend for another three or four seasons. One part of those assumptions was right, the Texans have been one of the league's best teams, but even the most optimistic Colts fan has to be shocked by their 9-4 record at this point in the season.
I still think the Colts are a couple seasons away from being serious contenders because some of their victories have a smoke and mirrors feel to them. They've been outscored by an average of 2.8 points per game and rank 22nd in point differential this season. One stat I like to look at is 'Expected W-L' which looks at your points scored, points allowed and estimates the record those numbers deserve; the Colts expected win/loss is 5-8. Basically meaning, they've been a little lucky. The Colts also rank 30th in the league in takeaway/giveaway differential at -16, an average of -1.2 per game. Teams like the Eagles, Chiefs, Dolphins, and Titans that sandwich the Colts in that ranking are all are having awful seasons, further pointing out the "Luck" the Colts have had this season. (Sorry, couldn't resist). Congratulations to the Colts for a great season so far, but I can't help but think they're not as good as their record indicates.
Texans Offense vs. Colts Defense:
Arian Foster has totaled just 84 rushing yards over his last two games, a total that would be disappointing for a single game, but still managed to reach the end zone in both games. In my opinion the offensive line deserves most of the blame this season for the struggles with the running game. They're playing backups, they've had some injuries, and I don't expect things to get much better until they address it in the off-season. However, they do have a chance for a bounce back this week against a soft Colts run defense. The Colts rank 19th in rushing yards allowed, 23rd in rushing touchdowns allowed, and 28th in yards per carry allowed at 4.7 yards per rush attempt. A couple weeks ago C.J. Spiller ran for 107 yards on just 14 carries, I don't think Foster's YPC average will be that high, but I expect him to get back over 100 yards.
The Colts have struggled against the pass this season, ranking 20th in passing yards and touchdowns allowed, and 28th in passes intercepted. Matt Schaub has a good chance at a bounce back game, something he needs desperately. Not that you should put much stock in it, but Schaub has been much better in regional day games this season than he has been in nationally televised games in prime time. Take it for what you will, but his day game/night game splits are pretty drastic.
Day Games: 280 yards per game, 19 TD/4 INT
Night Games: 192 yards per game, 2 TD/6 INT (NYJ, GB, CHI, NEP)
Schaub should be looking for Andre Johnson early and often on Sunday who should tear up the Colts pass defense. He's being targeted by Schaub nearly 12 times a game over the six games since the bye week; I expect at least 80 yards from him this week.
One thing that could change the game for the Colts, as it's been for a long time, is their pressure off the edge from Freeney and Mathis. I don't trust the right side of the Texans line against average defensive lineman, much less two pro-bowlers.
Texans Defense vs. Colts Offense:
The Colts offense has played well in late game scenarios, but they'll give you a chance to blow them out early in the game and make the 4th quarter not matter. The Colts have turned the ball over at least once in 11 of their 13 games this season and have at least two turnovers in each of their last five games (13 total). On top of turning the ball over, the Colts can't protect Luck and rank just 25th in sacks allowed. I don't have much confidence in the Texans pass defense right now, but the Colts offensive line hasn't played well and despite leading six game winning drives, Luck is still a rookie who makes mistakes and turns the ball over.
Ever since Edgerrin James retired, the Colts have basically gone with a running back by committee look and that hasn't changed this season. They've had in the past, and do again this year, better than average backs but no one that is special or someone you have to base your defensive game plan around. The Colts rank 22nd in rushing yards and 23rd in yards per carry this season; they're averaging under four yards per carry. The Texans rank 2nd in rushing yards allowed and 1st in rushing touchdowns allowed this season; they shouldn't have much of a problem with the Colts running game.