Little is preordained in the NFL, as the often-spoken sentiment of parity prevails in professional pigskin and prevents the inevitable from coming to fruition. The exception to this rule seemed to lie in the AFC South, as the departure of Peyton Manning conceded the division to the Houston Texans, with the Colts supposed to struggle under a new regime while Tennessee and Jacksonville grappled with, well, the fact that they are Tennessee and Jacksonville.
At least this was the theory. And through the middle of October, there was little to challenge this premise, as the Texans sat atop the entire conference with a 6-1 record while others in the division struggled to stay above .500.
However, fueled by a fervor for their head coach Chuck Pagano, who is battling leukemia, and the improved play of fledgling franchise star Andrew Luck, the Colts have won seven of their last eight contests and look like a safe bet to secure a wild-card berth. Though the feat is admirable for a squad coming off a 2-14 campaign, the Horseshoes harbor higher aspirations than merely reaching the postseason. In their eyes, a division crown is still in sight.
Such an ambition is possible thanks to a recent Houston shellacking at the hands of New England, whittling the division lead to just two games, disconcerting as the team's final three outings feature the playoff-contending Minnesota Vikings and two matchups with the aforementioned Colts. This weekend marks the first meeting of these two AFC South foes and serves as our WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
Much has been transcribed about the neophyte Luck, and rightfully so, as the No. 1 overall pick has averaged over 290 passing yards per game and contributed 23 total touchdowns (18 passing, five rushing) to the Colts' cause. Alas, if Indianapolis has hopes for prolonging their playoff itinerary past the first weekend, Luck will need to resolve his ball security issues, and resolve them fast. The Colts QB's 18 picks are tied with Drew Brees for most in the league, and Luck has put the ball on the ground 10 times, five which were lost to the other team. Growing pains are expected with developing signal callers, but that phase will need to be accelerated for Indianapolis to succeed in January.
Meanwhile, Houston enters as arguably the least-respected 11-2 roster in NFL history. Two national beatdowns certainly hurt their argument, as well as close calls against pedestrian lineups in Jacksonville and Detroit. Yet for a squad that controls their own destiny for the No. 1 seed in the conference, the swagger, or lack thereof, of this squad is troubling.
Luckily for Gary Kubiak and company, the Texans still employ a high-octane offense, as the Houston unit is one of only four teams to average over 28 points per game this season. Led by Pro Bowler Arian Foster, who leads the league with 14 rushing touchdowns and is second in the conference at 88.3 yards per contest, Houston is one of the rare clubs that surmounts their attack on the soil in this new NFL age of air assaults. If the Houston secondary can regain their formidable form from the first two months of the season, the Texans will be as tough of an out as any in the postseason.
So who emerges victorious in this battle for the AFC South belt? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com football simulation engine, the Texans come out on top 65.4 percent of the time by an average score of 25-20. For the rest of this week's scores, check below:
Each Tuesday, WhatIfSports.com's NFL simulation engine will provide you with predictions, box scores and statistics for every NFL game that week. The NFL simulation engine generates detailed information including the home team's chances of winning (Home Win percentage), average score and comprehensive box score link. If you want to share your new found NFL knowledge with friends and family, make sure to check out our NFL Widgets on the WhatIf To Go page or click on the social networking share bar located at the top and bottom of the article.
The statistical inputs to the thousands of NFL games simulated are based on rigorous analysis of each team's roster, depth chart and statistically-based player ranking. Roster modifications have been made for injuries and suspensions and those players are not part of their team's game simulation.
To account for injuries and roster moves announced late in the week, we will be re-simulating some games on Thursdays throughout the 2012 NFL season.
Check out our 2012 NFL Season-to-Date page to follow our accuracy week-to-week and find Locks and Upsets of the Week.