Written by: Cody Manning
Previous Matchup: The Colts and Texans just recently faced off on December 9th in Houston where we say Indy won 24-21. Andrew Luck threw for 399 yards and 2 touchdowns but much of that was to the thanks of T.Y. Hilton who had a 199-yard day through the air himself. Deshaun Watson was contained for the most part as he was held to 267 yards and a touchdown. His favorite target, DeAndre Hopkins, was limited by Indianapolis’ defense as they held him to only 36 yards but he did catch a touchdown. Houston and Indy split their series this season so it's up to the Wildcard rubber match to determine who has some bragging rights heading into the offseason.
Offense: Indianapolis features a top-10 offense that puts up 386.2 YPG and averages 27.1 PPG. Most of those yards do come from Luck’s arms as they averaged 278.8 YPG through the air this season. Even though their offensive line has been dominating this season, they still only rank 20th in rush offense with an average of 107.4 YPG on the ground. But, Indy has shown the ability to control games with Marlon Mack running the ball and their line winning the war in the trenches. Hilton has a history of having his best games not only against the Texans but also specifically when they play in Houston. If he and Luck can connect early in the game then that spells trouble for Houston.
Houston is bringing a middle of the pack offense with them into the playoffs as they averaged 362.6 YPG but did put up 25.1 PPG for the 2018 season. They are more of a team that gets their yards on the ground as they rank 8th in rushing with 126.3 YPG but that is thanks to the legs of Deshaun Watson who helps the Texans extend drives when he runs. Due to injuries and poor offensive line play, Houston ranks 17th in their passing offense with only averaging 236.3 YPG. Watson has the talent to take over games and Hopkins can take the top off defenses. If they can find some early chemistry then it will make the defense be on their toes all afternoon. It will also be ideal for the Texans to lean on Lamar Miller to help control the clock and keep Luck off the field.
The Colts tend to have the advantage here because of their offensive line play and that Luck is playing some of his best ball this season. The Texans have the talent to play in a shootout but their line has allowed Watson to be sacked 62 times this season. That is a record for a quarterback that is in the playoffs. The loss of Demaryius Thomas and Will Fuller will show in this matchup as Watson just doesn’t have enough weapons around him. Give me Luck and that dominating line over what the Texans have in this matchup.
Defense: Indianapolis made it to the playoffs not only because of their play on offense but also because of the major improvement on their defense. They finished as the 11th ranked defense in total yards allowed by giving up an average of 339.4 YPG as well as 21.1 PPG. Their rush defense is their strong suit as they find themselves in the top-10 only giving up 101.6 YPG on the ground and didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher all season long. They are a middle of the pack pass defense allowing 237.8 YPG through the air. It will be on their stud rookie, Darius Leonard, to help lead their defense to victory on Saturday. Look out for him flying all over to make plays and even has the athletic ability to shadow Hopkins in coverage as he did in their previous matchup. Indy’s young but talented defense needs to come to play with the talented Watson looking their way.
Houston has just as solid overall defense like Indy as they finished right behind Indy with the 12th ranked overall defense allowing 343.1 YPG but only gave up 19.8 PPG on the season. Their defensive front featuring J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney was a major force against the run in 2018. They finished the year with the 3rd best rush defense by only allowing 82.7 YPG so it will be on them to not let the opposing offensive line to not win those battles in the trenches. Their Achilles heel is their pass defense as they were the 5th worst unit in the NFL. They gave up an average of 260.4 YPG through the air. If the back end of the defensive unit can’t hold their own then Luck could have a field day tossing the ball around.
Both of these defenses are pretty even and it showed in the overall stats they allowed this season. Indianapolis has the ability to shut down the run, limit Hopkins, and they have shown they can do this in their previous matchup with Houston. Even though the Texans are suspect to get beat through the air, they still have Watt and Clowney, those two alone can disrupt Luck’s rhythm by getting in his face all afternoon. I think both units are pretty even and should be the reason why they either help their team win or keep in distance in this game.
Special Teams: The Colts feature arguably the greatest kicker in NFL history with Adam Vinatieri. He has made tons of game-winning kicks in his career and some of those have come on the biggest stage. Kai’imi Fairbairn has been a reliable kicker for the Texans this season. He is a big part of why they were able to win a lot of games because he was putting up points when the offense stalled. But, he doesn’t have any experience kicking in the playoffs so I am going with the old guy in Vinatieri here.
Coaching: Bill O’Brien has the playoff experience as a head coach over Frank Reich. O’Brien is 1-2 in the playoffs and will be looking to bring that to a .500 record so people don’t start to question if he can bring Houston deep into the playoffs when they do make it to the dance. Reich does have some viable experience coming from being the offensive coordinator for the Eagles Super Bowl win last year. They are 1-1 against each other. I think both teams coaches are about even right now and this game could be a indication on who truly had the advantage entering Saturday.
Prediction: This is going to be a thriller of a matchup as each team beat each other by 3 points in their two games this season. Watson’s talent and the Texans defensive front-seven will keep them in this game. While Luck and Indy’s fast but young defense will be looking to make plays all afternoon. The injuries to the skill positions and poor offensive line play will catch up to Houston as this game goes on. The Colts find a way to win a close one in the 4th quarter and look to continue their magical season into the Divisional round of the playoffs.