Much has rightfully been made about Chuck Pagano's return to the sidelines on Sunday when the Texans take on the Colts in Indianapolis. Wayne Drehs of ESPN.com penned a tremendously moving piece about what an inspiration Pagano has been to people afflicted with leukemia, and I'd strongly recommend you read it, provided you have a box of tissues handy. By all accounts, Pagano is a good man with a big heart; if the Texans weren't playing the Colts on Sunday, I'd be rooting my arse off for Pagano.
I fully expect Lucas Oil Stadium to be rocking. It'll be a charged atmosphere, and if the Colts can get off to a quick start (e.g., scoring on the first drive, forcing the Texans to go three-and-out on their first drive, etc.), the fans are going to be crazy. Is that enough to spur the Colts to an upset win over a desperate Houston team?
Yes, I said desperate. If the Texans lose on Sunday, they're all but assured of the third seed in the AFC, assuming the Patriots beat the Dolphins and the Broncos beat the Chiefs (as they should). That means a wild card game next weekend at Reliant against the Bengals. Win there, and the Texans would have to travel to New England for a divisional game. Win there, and the Texans would have to travel to Denver for the AFC Championship Game. Compare that with (1) resting next weekend; (2) hosting the Ravens or Colts the week after that; and (3) if they were to take care of business in their divisional game, hosting the Broncos or Patriots at Reliant Stadium for the right to play in the Super Bowl. It's night and day.
The Texans know that. Tired as we all get of hearing about "THE BIGGEST GAME IN FRANCHISE HISTORY," Sunday's tilt in Indianapolis is a massive game (though I will not attach the "BIGGEST GAME..." label to it). Who will win? I'm glad you asked. I give you the answer key, BRB.
1. There will be two things that are very different about Sunday's game from the one these teams played two weeks ago. The first is Chuck Pagano. The second is Brooks Reed. Although Reed was pulled from the abomination against the Vikings, he's expected back on Sunday. Reed's presence, even if it's limited, will affect Vick Ballard. He's not going to average 5.8 yards per carry on Sunday. He's not going to rush for 100+ yards. In fact, Ballard finishes with 69 yards on 17 carries.
2. What will not change from the last meeting of the Colts and the Texans? Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. The Texans will ride their stars. 'Dre finishes with 8 catches for 112 yards and a TD. Foster carries the ball 25 times for 104 yards and a TD. As Rivers and I discussed, I'm also optimistic that Kubes remembers he has tight ends who are more than capable of contributing in the passing game. Owen Daniels adds five receptions for 53 yards and a TD.
3. Andrew Luck is the key to this game. I do not expect the Colts to have as much success on the ground as they did two weeks ago, so it's going to be on Luck to keep his team moving. The good news for Texans fans is that I do not believe Luck manages to avoid throwing an interception for a second consecutive game against Houston. The bad news is that I also do not believe Reggie Wayne is held to three catches for 14 yards (his worst game of the season by far) again. Luck will throw for three touchdowns, one of which will go to Reggie Wayne on a play of 20+ yards. He'll also throw a pick that gets returned for a touchdown by the Texans.
PUT YOUR NAME ON IT: And that pick-six will be the difference. Texans 28, Colts 24. The AFC Playoffs will go through Houston.
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