Who would have thought these two teams would meet in Week 17 under these circumstances?
OK, that's not entirely true. Almost everyone projected the Houston Texans to take the AFC South. But no one outside of Indianapolis picked the Colts, the worst team in football a year ago, to make the playoffs.
But, thanks to Andrew Luck and a little "Chuckstrong" belief, that's where the Colts sit today.
The Texans are locked into a top-three seed in the AFC, but with a win, the Texans can secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Adding to the intrigue of this game is the return of Chuck Pagano, who will be on the sidelines this weekend after a battle with leukemia.
It is sure to be an emotional showdown in Indy as the Texans battle for the No. 1 seed and the Colts play for Chuck.
Who takes this game?
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
When: Sunday, Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL.com
Betting Line: Houston -4.5 (via Football Locks)
Houston Injury Report as of 12/25 (via NFL.com)
|Tyler Clutts||RB||Abdominal||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Derek Newton||T||Knee||Limited Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Barrett Ruud||LB||Knee||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Johnathan Joseph||CB||Groin||Limited Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Shaun Cody||DT||Back||Limited Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Antonio Smith||DE||Ankle||Limited Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Ben Tate||RB||Hamstring||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Wade Smith||G||Knee||Limited Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Owen Daniels||TE||Hamstring||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Alan Ball||CB||Foot||Did Not Participate In Practice||Out|
|Justin Forsett||RB||Knee||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Darryl Sharpton||LB||Toe||Limited Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Glover Quin||S||Hip||Limited Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Jared Crick||DE||Neck||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Tim Dobbins||LB||Shoulder||Limited Participation in Practice||Probable|
|T.J. Yates||QB||right Elbow||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Brooks Reed||LB||Groin||Limited Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Bryan Braman||LB||Knee||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
Indianapolis Injury Report as of 12/25 (via NFL.com)
|Kavell Conner||LB||Hamstring||Did Not Participate In Practice||Out|
|A.Q. Shipley||C||Knee||Full Participation in Practice||Questionable|
|Samson Satele||C||Ankle||Did Not Participate In Practice||Out|
|Martin Tevaseu||DT||Illness||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Robert Mathis||LB||--||Full Participation in Practice||--|
|Andrew Luck||QB||Knee||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Reggie Wayne||WR||--||Did Not Participate In Practice||--|
|Delone Carter||RB||Ankle||Did Not Participate In Practice||Out|
|Tom Zbikowski||S||Knee||Limited Participation in Practice||Out|
|Winston Justice||T||Biceps||Full Participation in Practice||Questionable|
|Teddy Williams||CB||Knee||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Joe Lefeged||S||Calf||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Antonio Johnson||DT||Ankle||Did Not Participate In Practice||Questionable|
|Jerrell Freeman||LB||Thumb||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
|Dwight Freeney||LB||Ankle||Full Participation in Practice||Probable|
What's at Stake
For Houston, a lot.
For Indy, not so much.
The Colts are already locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC, and they simply await the revel of their opponent, likely the winner of the AFC North.
Still, expect the Colts to play as hard as they have all year to honor the amazing return of their head coach.
Houston RB: Ben Tate
Yes, you read that correctly. Ben Tate, not Arian Foster.
However, with the division title already secure, you can bet the Texans ease Foster's workload a bit against the Colts, which leaves the carries to Tate.
And boy is it a heck of a matchup for him. The Colts are 30th in the NFL against the run and are only a week removed from Jamaal Charles rushing for 226 yards against them.
Tate isn't Foster, but on Sunday, his production might approach that level.
Indianapolis QB: Andrew Luck
Honestly, who else on this team is a better fantasy start than Luck?
Luck has been a top-10 fantasy QB all season, and the Colts will be forced to throw against the Texans' stout rush defense.
The No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft has eclipsed double-digit fantasy points in all but three games this year. Don't expect that to change on Sunday.
Plus, it won't hurt that the whole team will receive a little emotional boost from the return of Pagano.
What They're Saying
The talk of the nation is surrounding the return of Pagano.
The sports world is abuzz with the great news, and ESPN's Trey Wingo had this to say after Pagano's press conference on Christmas Eve:
A year ago, the Colts were on the clock. Now? They're in the playoffs and today welcome back Head Coach Chuck Pagano. Not bad..#chuckstrong— trey wingo (@wingoz) December 24, 2012
Chuckstrong is right. This team has been the best story in the NFL this season.
Luck has totally changed the attitude in Indy and has almost made Colts fans forget about that other quarterback.
You know, Peyton Manning.
As good as Luck has been, though, the season is about Pagano. He's the epicenter of this comeback, and his inspirational story has defined the Colt's season.
Key Matchup: J.J. Watt vs. Colts O-line
Usually this would be the Houston defensive line versus the Indy O-line, but last time around Watt almost single-handedly beat the Colts.
In the pair's last matchup only two weeks ago, Watt was a monster. He had three sacks, 10 tackles and was in the Colts backfield almost as much as Luck.
He was nothing short of a force.
And if he manages to repeat his three-sack performance on Sunday, he would break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record of 22.5. Actually, Watt only needs 2.5 sacks to make that happen.
The Colts offensive line will have to play much better this time around to not only ensure that Watt doesn't enter the record books, but more importantly, to make sure their quarterback stays 100 percent entering the playoffs.
Pagano is back on the sidelines, and it's sure to give the Colts a huge boost at home.
But that won't prevent the Texans from taking this game. They're the more talented team, and more importantly, they need this game with home-field advantage on the line.
It will be closer than these teams' last matchup, but the Texans will walk away from this game with the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Houston 27, Indianapolis 21