You can't really say the final week of the preseason or any Astros baseball are huge matchups, so we're focusing our attention instead on the opening salvo to the 2011 NFL season, when the Houston Texans host the Indianapolis Colts.
Why is this such a big game? For one, it's the beginning of what should be the most competitive AFC South race in years, as the Colts will likely struggle early in the season as Peyton Manning slowly comes back from his neck injury. Combine that with what could be a down year from Jacksonville and Tennessee plus a much tougher schedule for the entire division this season and no one team could run away with things.
That's why this early season matchup is so crucial for Houston. If they can get an early win against a Manning-less Colts team, they drastically increase their odds of finishing well in the division. I expect they can go 3-1 against the Titans and Jaguars, which leaves just that one game in Indy as the lone outlier. By winning this opener, they're already 4-1 in division games. Sneaking an upset in Indy would further increase their chances of taking the division.
They still have to play well against the Colts. Last season, when Houston beat Indy in Week 1, they had Arian Foster running wild. There's a chance The Beast can come back from his nagging hamstring issues to play against the Colts, but who knows if he'll be at 100 percent. Instead, Houston will have to rely on the passing attack to take pressure off Derrick Ward and Ben Tate in the backfield.
Oh, and there's also the revamped defense, which will be taken out of the garage for real this time. Mario Williams and Co. should be able to dictate their will against a young, inexperienced Colts offensive line and that should go a long way to helping out an equally young Houston secondary that's dealing with its own injury issues.
In short, the best thing that may happen for Houston this week is to not face Peyton. Without the specter of Manning, this defense could put up some good numbers against Kerry Collins and build a bit of confidence heading into the first part of the season.
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