On December 16th, 2011, the Indianapolis Colts were 0-13—trying to avoid the ignominy of a winless season. One year days later, the fruit of that ineptitude has them competing with the NFL's elite.
The Colts (9-4) hit the road for a bout with the Houston Texans (11-2) this weekend at Reliant Stadium. And, absurd as it would've sounded back in April, this Week 15 showdown could actually decide the champion of the AFC South.
Houston is coming off a short week and rebounding from a shameful 28-point loss in New England. They've only dropped two games in 2012, but they've now done so by a combined 46 points.
Indianapolis, meanwhile, continues to subsist by the narrowest of margins. At 7-1 in their last eight games, the Colts needed more late-game magic from Andrew Luck to prevail over the Titans at home last weekend.
Indianapolis holds its fate in its own hands. If they win out, they'll take the AFC South outright—relegating the once 11-1 Texans to a road game during Wild Card Weekend.
Let's see if they have what it takes.
When: Sunday, Dec. 16th, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
Watch: CBS (Check local listings)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Houston -8.5 (via VegasInsider.com—LVH)
That's a big, crooked number to lay against a 9-4 opponent. But it's also one that makes a lot of sense.
The Colts don't always lose, but when they do, they prefer to get annihilated. Like, annihilated.
Only one of their losses came by less than 20 points, and that—a home loss to Jacksonville—might actually be the most egregious of their failings.
That could be problematic against a Houston team that's proved capable of blowing teams out. Six of their 11 wins were by over 10 points, and four of those six were by 20-plus.
Playing with a chip on their shoulder after last week's loss, and realizing the momentous stakes of this week's game, Houston has a chance to blow this one out of the water.
Lay the points.
Over/Under: 48.0 (via VegasInsider.com—LVH)
Houston's offense looked uninspired against New England last week. But that was on the road, outdoors, against a tremendously underrated defense.
In Week 15 they'll find themselves at home, indoors, against a tremendously awful defense.
The Colts rank 30th in defensive efficiency (h/t Football Outsiders), trailing the likes of New Orleans, Jacksonville and Kansas City. Think the 42 points Houston gave up in New England was bad? The Colts surrendered 59 points there in November.
On the other side of the ball, Houston's pass defense has been unrecognizable since losing Johnathan Joseph. He returned against New England, but it didn't make much of a difference. Andrew Luck and the Colts' late-blooming aerial juggernaut should find plenty of space to operate—especially if they find themselves playing from behind.
You're gonna want the over in this one.
Indianapolis Colts Injury Report (via USA Today—as of 12/13/12)
|WR Donnie Avery||Ribs||Probable|
|TE Coby Fleener||Ankle||Probable|
|QB Andrew Luck||Knee||Probable|
|OT Joe Reitz||Concussion||Probable|
|LB Kavell Conner||Hamstring||Questionable|
|C Samson Satele||Ankle||Questionable|
|OT Winston Justice||Bicep||Questionable|
|RB Donald Brown||Ankle||Questionable|
|S Tom Zbikowski||Knee||Questionable|
Houston Texans Injury Report (via USA Today—as of 12/13/12)
|TE Garrett Graham||Concussion||Probable|
|P Donnie Jones||Knee||Questionable|
|CB Johnathan Joseph||Groin||Questionable|
|LB Darryl Sharpton||Toe||Questionable|
|DE Antonio Smith||Ankle||Questionable|
|G Wade Smith||Ribs||Questionable|
|NT Shaun Cody||Ribs||Questionable|
|LB Tim Dobbins||Shoulder||Questionable|
|DB Alan Ball||Foot||Questionable|
|G Antoine Caldwell||Hamstring||Questionable|
|LB Brooks Reed||Groin||Questionable|
|OT Derek Newton||Knee||Questionable|
Fantasy Big Plays
Indianapolis Colts: QB Andrew Luck
For all of the reasons discussed above.
The Colts defense is going to have a rough go against the Texans' balanced attack. A really rough go. Depending on just how many points they surrender, 40-50 pass attempts are well within reason for the precocious rookie.
Don't be the guy who leaves that on the bench.
Houston Texans: RB Arian Foster
Only because I'm not allowed to choose everybody.
According to Football Outsiders, the Colts defense ranks 31st against the run. That should be auspicious for Arian Foster, who needs to get going after consecutive games with under 50 rushing yards.
If the Texans take a big lead, they'll turn to their workhorse and let him salt away the game. He's averaged only 14.5 carries the past two weeks, a sharp decline from the 25.25 he averaged in the four weeks prior.
Foster will be hungry for touches, and against a listless run defense, he'll find himself duly fed.
What more could fantasy owners ask for?
Key to Victory: The First Quarter
For those who scrolled through the rest of this primer, I haven't been bashful about predicting a fast start from the Texans.
If my prognostications prove correct, the Colts have no chance. If Indy proves me wrong and weathers the storm, they might be able to hang around.
In particular, I think their first two offensive possessions are pivotal; even if they don't come away with touchdowns—heck, even if they don't come away with points—they need to move the chains and control the clock. The longer Matt Schaub and Co. are on the sideline, the better.
But if the Colts go three-and-out or cough up the pigskin, this game could get out of hand quickly.
In the standings, Indianapolis has exceeded all conceivable expectations. A one-year swing from 0-13 to 9-4 is unprecedented, and Andrew Luck deserves all the plaudits he receives.
But there's an elephant in the room at Lucas Oil Stadium. Because everywhere other than the standings, they've been nearly as bad as predicted.
Football Outsiders ranks them the seventh-worst team in football. The six teams who trail them have a combined record of 19-59; the six teams who immediately precede them have a combined record of 33-45.
That's not good company.
Look for Houston to stake its claim, indisputably, as the class of of the division.
Predicted Score: Houston 42, Indianapolis 23