Sunday Night Preview: Colts at Texans
PRESEASON AFC SOUTH FAVE HOUSTON ALREADY FACING ELIMINATION!
It can seem overly dramatic to call an encounter on the first Sunday in November a "must-win game" for somebody who's used to reaching the playoffs. But, that's certainly the case for the Houston Texans in their prime time matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. Houston already trails Indy by three games in the AFC South race, and would fall far out of the Wildcard mix with a loss to the Colts.
THAT'S A MUST-WIN GAME!
Let's jump right into the standings because that's the most important element of the backdrop in the NBC showdown.
Won-Lost Records (opponents so far)
Indianapolis: 5-2 (#8 schedule in USA Today)
Houston: 2-5 (#2 schedule in USA Today)
A three game Colts' lead becomes four if slightly favored Indianapolis takes care of business. But, a three-game Colt's lead falls to only TWO if Houston can spring the small upset. Two games is far from insurmountable, particularly because these teams meet again later this season. Houston doesn't quite fully control its destiny. But, they control enough of it that a 2-5 start hasn't eliminated them yet. A 2-6 start would pretty much end any playoff hopes barring a few miracles.
So far, we've talked about "need." That favors Houston immensely. Let's note though that the information above makes it pretty clear that Indianapolis is for real in the AFC championship race. They're 5-2 against a tough schedule! Having already defeated Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco, there's nobody out there that can truly scare the Colts. They can play with anybody. As long as Andrew Luck stays healthy, they will be a team that matters in January.
Can Houston join them in the brackets? Let's look at some more numbers...
Yards-Per Play to Date
Indianapolis: 5.5 on offense, 5.5 on defense
Houston: 5.3 on offense, 4.8 on defense
You weren't expecting that were you?! Indianapolis is only break even in the very important category of yards-per-play differential. Now, adjust for strength of schedule, and they become a slightly positive team in the big picture. But, Houston has actually played the tougher of the two schedules, and is at +0.5!
This is where everything fell apart for Houston. Not only was Matt Schaub having a horrible year in the turnover department, but he had a disturbing knack for throwing touchdown passes to the wrong team. Houston was basically a 12-4 type team in terms of per-play yardage...but a 4-12 type team with turnovers. Indianapolis has done a good job in the risk-reward area, an important sign for the continuing development of young Luck.
Now...we need to mention the obvious factor that Case Keenum is quarterbacking for Houston instead of the injured Schaub. Normally, that's worth a few points. Maybe as much as a field goal if it were a year ago at this time. But, as badly as Schaub was playing...there's a chance Keenum will actually be an upgrade! Houston did cover at Kansas City after all, and could have won outright with a play here or there.
Let's assume Houston's yardage differential gets worse, but their turnover debacle comes to an end. THAT means we're looking at a Wildcard caliber team...because 2-5 vs. the #2 schedule equates to about 4-3 vs. a league average schedule even with all the turnovers. If Keenum settles the ship, this race could get very interesting.
Indianapolis: 4-3 ATS
Houston: 1-6 ATS
Houston covered the game Keenum started in Kansas City, which means they were 0-6 ATS with Schaub! This is what we mean about settling the ship. Keenum is not a star QB, and will not turn the Texans into a powerhouse. He can help them be the type of "grinder" team that earns a Wildcard.
Current Line: Indianapolis by 2.5, total 44.5
Home field advantage is worth three points in the NFL. That line is telling you the market sees Indy as 5.5 points better than Houston with Keenum...and that they would be -8.5 were the game being played up North. Does that strike you as correct? Has Houston fallen THAT far behind Indianapolis in such a short time, even with the quarterback change?
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