HERE. WE. GO.
After a horrendous 0-3 start, the Houston Texans, incredibly, finished 11-5, barely missing the No. 2 seed in the AFC Playoffs. The Indianapolis Colts, similarly, started 1-5 and were understandably left for dead before rallying to finish 10-6.
A little thing happened on the way to January football. The Jacksonville Jaguars reclaimed their birthright, returning to their rightful place at the bottom of the AFC South. The Texans and Colts slowly figured some things out, stacked a bunch of wins up against mediocre competition, and in the process each team has become a formidable playoff opponent. The Colts have Andrew Luck back to being Andrew Luck, and they have a stout run defense. The Texans also have a great run defense, and though the secondary has not been good all year, Bill O’Brien is likely to open up the offense a bit now that the playoffs are here. In my personal opinion, there’s an air of unpredictability to the Texans’ offense right now, and if O’Brien leans more on Deshaun Watson’s arm in the playoffs, I think it could be a very interesting January.
Are you ready? I’m SO ready. I think about how I felt after 0-3 and honestly, all my bitching and hand-wringing about the secondary, the offense, etc., kind of melts away. It’s time for playoff football. It’s time for PLAYOFF DESHAUN WATSON.
Chris: Texans 33, Colts 30.
I picked the Colts to win at NRG Stadium when these two teams last met a few weeks back. I hated to do it, but it felt right, and it was right. I wish I had some tangible reason to tell you why I think it will be different this time. I don’t think Bill O’Brien is a better coach than he was then, and I don’t think the Texans’ secondary is any better than it was then. I just think it’s a very tall task for the Colts to win two games in Houston at NRG Stadium in one season. I think after what happened to the Texans’ secondary against the Colts, Jets, and Eagles, wily Romeo Crennel will make some adjustments.
But most of all, my reasoning for this prediction can be encapsulated by three words. PLAYOFF. DESHAUN. WATSON.
This of course won’t be enough to win the game alone - it also would require Bill O’Brien to put more trust in Watson’s ARM rather than just his running ability. Watson is lethally accurate in the mid-range game, especially when he’s in a rhythm of throwing the ball. You can’t much get into a rhythm the way O’Brien has called plays all season, so my sincere hope for this game is that O’Brien cuts Deshaun loose, because I truly believe Number 4 is going to be a playoff MONSTER. Let’s do this - I can’t wait.
BFmf’nD: Colts 34, Texans 26.
Is our coaches learning?
For me - and as Big Matt and I discussed on BRR - there are three primary areas to watch unfold. First, both J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney need to have big games. Not one or the other. Braden Smith shut down Watt the last time the two teams met.
Secondly, the Clots had a lot of success blitzing defensive backs last time, which also helped to keep Deshaun Watson pocket-bound. Will that continue?
Most importantly, however, is what our offensive game plan looks like. Neither team will be able to run the ball on Saturday, but if Bill O’Brien insists on trying to establish the run game and “control the clock,” the Texans will be in a lot of trouble. The Clots will score on us, and it’s likely we’ll fall behind quickly if we waste a couple drives sending Alfred Blue and Lamar Miller up the middle. If BOB allows Watson to play QB and lead this team? It will be a vastly different story.
Until BOB proves he’s not going to out-conservative the opposition, I think we fall behind early and can’t catch-up.
Capt. Ron: Texans 38, Colts 35.
Notwithstanding any significant imbalance in turnovers or injuries to either team, the effectiveness of speed and agility at wide receiver will determine the outcome of this game.
The T.Y. Hilton Effect has become all too familiar within the boundaries of NRG Stadium. If he notches more than 180 yards and two touchdowns, the Texans will be doomed. If they keep him below this metric, the Texans can win. That will require Houston’s front seven to raise their protection-busting efforts to disrupt Andrew Luck frequently, and for the defensive backs to do something they haven’t been able to do all season: cover a speedy receiver like Hilton and an effective tight end in Eric Ebron. This is a nightmare match-up for the Texans.
In comparison to this, if Keke Coutee can bring speed and agility to get open for a big day while lining up in the slot and across from DeAndre Hopkins--assuming Bill O’Brien actually unleashes Deshaun Watson instead of turtling up the middle with an impotent attempt at a running game against a strong Indy defense--the Texans can turn this into a bit of a boat race for what might be the most exciting playoff game of the weekend.
I think the good guys will dig deeper than ever, and O’Brien and RAC will bring the best game plan we have seen all year. It will end with time expiring as Ka’imi Fairbairn, the NFL’s leading scorer with 150 points and a franchise-record 37 field goals, notches the game-winning shot in front of a thundering hometown crowd.
Mike Bullock: Texans 32, Colts 31.
I like the cut of your jib, Capt. Ron.
The keys to victory lie in the hands of T.Y. Hilton and Deshaun Watson. If Hilton has a typical field day, Houston’s going to be hard pressed to advance in the playoffs. But, since Hilton is nursing an ankle injury, hopefully Romeo Crennel can scheme a way to keep him in the bottle; slowing him down speeds up the chance for coverage sacks, something Andrew Luck hasn’t taken many of this year. Luck has also not faced J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney in the playoffs at home, either.
Then, Deshaun Watson can do what only Deshaun Watson can do - which is take every team he’s ever played for to a championship for the first time in their entire history (well, second for Clemson, but first this century). Add in some insane plays from DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller, and more field goals than any other kicker in the playoffs, and H-Town lives to fight another day.
Matt Weston: Colts 34, Texans 27.
I feel more confident today about the Texans’ chances to win a game this postseason than I did eight weeks ago. During their nine-game winning streak, the fatal flaw with this team was its secondary. Hidden and armored by quarterbacks and opposing offenses that couldn’t take advantage of Shareece Wright, Houston’s defense thrived by obliterating run-heavy teams. Then the Colts, Eagles, and Jets threw on them. And during this frenzy, something beautiful happened. Deshaun Watson became something more than a Brian Hoyer game manager. He was converting 3rd and 11s, throwing the ball downfield, slinging it to DeAndre Hopkins, breaking tackles in the pocket, and now he has been manufactured as runner. Even if Houston was to give up more than 24 points to the Colts, which they probably will, I actually have some confidence that Watson can play PEW PEW PEW with Andrew Luck. Houston’s only hope is for both J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney to be dominant. Not one, or the other, but both. Even then, the Colts can still put up 31 points like they did in their first match-up with the Texans.
The key is that Bill O’Brien doesn’t try to set some sort of weird faux machismo, an “I’m not trying to have the best offense in football” tone, by running the ball early and often, settling for dump-offs on third down, and being fine with punting. Houston is going to need every point it can get. They can’t play like it’s going to be a 23-20 game as they’ve done previously. Houston’s run game that has been ineffective to end the year is going up against the fourth best run defense by DVOA.
I’m picking Indy to win even if I feel better about Houston’s chances. I have more faith in Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Eric Ebron, Dontrelle Inman, and Nyheim Hines against Houston’s secondary than I do in O’Brien being aggressive for an entire game. Additionally, I don’t think Watt and Clowney are both going to be dominant. Braden Smith locked down Watt last time, and Clowney wasn’t able to get tangible production against Anthony Castonzo, Both Smith and Castonzo were out in their first match-up.
Tim: Texans 31, Colts 28.
This is going to be a fun one to watch.
Watching Deshaun Watson against the Jaguars last week being featured on so many designed runs was puzzling to me. Why put your franchise quarterback in harm’s way with such frequency, especially later in the contest when the game was well in hand? The only reason I could come up with was that Bill O’Brien was trying to put things on tape for the Texans’ playoff opponents to worry about. The Texans hadn’t run many plays this season where DW4 was the primary running option, but with what he did last week, the Colts have one more angle to study in trying to address Houston’s game plan.
But I don’t think it was all strategy. I expect O’Brien to call some runs for Watson tomorrow, as Watson is Houston’s best option to move the ball successfully on the ground. Watson as a running threat should open things up more for Lamar Miller; some zone read looks that disguise play-action could also keep the Colts on their heels a bit.
Andrew Luck, as phenomenal as he is, usually gives opposing defenses two to three good chances at a turnover each week due to him trying to make something happen. I expect one interception by Houston’s much maligned secondary that turns into points for the Texans.
A tie game will end in a Houston victory when Deshaun Watson adds to his legend by marching the Texans down the field, in large part to a gigantic catch by DeAndre Hopkins, to set up a Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal that proves the difference in the final score.
Feel free to use the comments section below to predict Saturday’s game, or lambaste the masthead for their predictions and logic. Or, you know...both.
Above all else, settle in, gird your loins, and enjoy Houston Texans playoff football!