Tomorrow afternoon at NRG Stadium, the Houston Texans face the Indianapolis Colts for the third time this season. After splitting the first two match-ups in the regular season, both teams look to advance to the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs with a win over their AFC South rival. For the Texans, this is their third trip to the playoffs in four years. This is definitely their most veteran-heavy roster in that time period.
For the Colts, what was supposed to be a rebuilding year under first-year head coach Frank Reich has turned into a breakout season. Winners of nine of their last ten games, the Colts are one of the hottest and youngest teams in the playoffs. Chris Ballard’s injection of young talent into the roster supplanted a hodgepodge of ineffective veterans who weighed the team down the past four seasons.
As the game nears, the betting lines settle, and the commentators weigh in, we look to the team’s respective experience levels as a guide to predict and analyze the game ahead. Win-or-go-home scenarios are fairly rare in the sport at the collegiate level, leaving most young players without any applicable do-or-die experience on the football field.
Fortunately for the Texans, they boast 26 players with playoff experience. With so much experience, the stage may not be too bright for the Texans as they face an evenly-matched foe. Texans legends such as J.J. Watt, Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, and DeAndre Hopkins, among others, carry with them the maturity and background to steer the ship for the Texans.
On the other side of the field, there is a dearth of playoff experience on the Colts’ roster. This will be the first playoff game for the Colts since the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots in 2014. The only players remaining on the roster from the 2014 team are Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Anthony Castonzo, and Adam Vinatieri. The Colts do have other players on their team with playoff experience, such as Jabaal Sheard, Margus Hunt, and Mike Mitchell, but the discrepancy across the board is something that the Colts’ coaching staff has surely taken notice of.
In case you didn’t know, kicker Adam Vinatieri boasts 30 playoff appearances in his 23 NFL seasons. The veteran kicker has been a source of knowledge for the franchise. Colts head coach Frank Reich tapped into the kicker’s wisdom to shed light on the different aspects of playing in a playoff game compared to a regular season game. According to Reich, Vinatieri spoke of not letting the moment get to them and keeping a level head during the game.
A level head would be a good thing to have as both Texans-Colts games this season came down to the wire and were decided by three points, one of those occurring in overtime. The game has the makings for another back-and-forth affair with quarterback play being a major factor in the game’s outcome.
Andrew Luck is 3-3 in the playoffs and the unmistakable leader in Indy’s locker room. The Houston native will seek his seventh victory over the Texans after throwing for 863 yards and six touchdowns against the Texans this season. Luck and his experience may be the keys to victory for the Colts, but Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson quite often displayed his own playoff magic at the collegiate level. In the two National Championship games Watson played in, he threw for 825 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I’ve seen [Watson’s] maturity level go through the roof, the way he’s handled himself,” WR DeAndre Hopkins said about the quarterback. “His determination to win, he’s been in situations this year where we’ve been down before and I don’t think anybody expected us to come back and find a way.” Watson has put together five comeback drives and five game-winning drives this season.
The team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins the ballgame, and the team that is usually the most calm in the spotlight tends to make less errors. Hopefully for the Texans, their experience in the playoffs (whether good or bad in the past) helps guide them past the Colts tomorrow.