The Texans do not appear to be a popular pick in this Wild Card round showdown, let alone the entire AFC. Even the Vegas line for Saturday’s game is only Texans -2.5; that’s quite low for a home team in the postseason. Andrew Luck’s status as an elite, MVP-caliber quarterback has the Colts as many folks’ dark horse team to emerge from the AFC, especially if your name is Colin Cowherd. Indianapolis’ stellar defense, led by rookie linebacker Darrius Leonard, and the ingenuity of new coach Frank Reich also helps.
Unfortunately for Cowherd and the fine people of Indianapolis, the Colts’ ride is going to end tomorrow afternoon. The NFL’s seventeen-year old expansion franchise will win their fourth playoff game, and here’s why:
- Deshaun Watson is built for these moments. In high intensity moments of pressure, there are three types of players in team sports. You either shrink below your normal level of play, you maintain it, or you elevate it in those moments. Deshaun Watson is the third kind of athlete. Back in his days at Clemson, there were two times that the greatest college football coach ever, Nick Saban, had over a month to prepare for Watson in the National Championship Game. Watson went 1-1 in those games and shredded the Alabama defense both times. In his NFL career, Watson is 4-1 in primetime games. In two games against this Colts this season, Watson threw for a combined 642 yards and four touchdowns. If he can avoid crucial sacks, the Texans’ dual-threat quarterback will be too much for these Colts to contain.
- T.Y. Hilton has an ankle injury. In a playoff game at his “second home,” Hilton might not even see the field. On Thursday, he was listed as questionable. However, if he does play, the Texans would not mind if Hilton is unable to get down the field quite the same. In seven career games in NRG Stadium, Hilton averages about six receptions, 133 yards, and a touchdown per game. No doubt about it, Hilton has burned the Texans. He is a big reason why the Colts have been 5-2 in Houston since he entered the league. Whether the injury keeps him out of the game or limits his ability to separate, the Texans’ 28th ranked pass defense will get a big break with a limited Hilton. This will allow the Texans to pay more attention to Zach Pascal, Ryan Grant, and Eric Ebron, other weapons who have had success against the Texans. Without the threat of Hilton taking the top off the secondary, the Texans’ fourth-ranked rush defense can dial in on Marlon Mack and force the Colts to become one-dimensional.
- Home field advantage. The Indianapolis Colts finished the season 4-4 on the road, with one of those wins coming at NRG Stadium last month. The Texans finished 6-2 at home. Over the last two postseasons, only one of the eight games in the Wild Card round resulted in the road team winning. Additionally, Indy was the third most penalized team in the NFL and it makes sense — they are a young and inexperienced team outside of Andrew Luck. Maintaining composure can become a challenge, especially on the road. The Houston home crowd is going to be rocking on Saturday afternoon, and it will be interesting to see how the noise affects the Colts on offense.
The path to victory for the Texans is simple. Keep Deshaun Watson away from hits and take away Indianapolis’ run game.
The path to defeat for the Texans is also simple. If the pass defense does not hold their end of the bargain, Andrew Luck might have a field day like he did in Week 14. If Deshaun Watson is getting hit, negative yards and momentum killers will appear. After all, no quarterback has been sacked more than Watson this season.
I believe the Texans will win a tight game that comes down to the Colts’ last possession, where Andrew Luck will throw a Hail Mary that gets batted to the ground.
My prediction: Texans 27, Colts 23.