The AFC South has been one of the poorest divisions in the league this season. Both Houston and Indianapolis are tied for the lead at 6-7, and we could realistically see a division champion without a winning record. These two teams will meet in Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday for a loser goes home game. Houston had been one of the league’s hottest teams up until a couple of weeks ago, but two consecutive losses to Buffalo and New England have dropped them back into the depths of the wild card race. But their defense is beginning to find playmakers beyond J.J. Watt, presenting a scary front when Watt is fully recovered. Indianapolis are banged up on offense. Both Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst are in with a chance of starting, while Frank Gore has been beaten behind a poor offensive line. On defense, the lacklustre Colts are limp, which will cause problems down the stretch.
Three Keys to the Game
Is J.J. Watt fully healthy?
After breaking his hand shortly before last week’s game against the Patriots, Watt finished without a sack despite still generating some pressure on Tom Brady. Watt hasn’t practised this week, saving his strength for the game. The bright side of Watt’s injury? Jadeveon Clowney stepped up last week, sacking Brady twice. However, Clowney also has not practised this week and seems to be nursing an injury. If he doesn’t play and Watt fails to make progress, Houston’s pass rush could be in trouble.
Who will quarterback the Colts?
Initially targeting this game to return from abdominal injuries, Andrew Luck has been ruled out of Sunday’s divisional decider. With Matt Hasselbeck banged up from last week, Charlie Whitehurst could start. However, Whitehurst would mean a drop off from even the injured Hasselbeck, who has played fairly well in place of Luck this season. However, Hasselbeck is 40 and has been playing for four straight games, which means he has been taking a beating behind Indy’s horrible offensive line. It’s likely that he won’t be 100% even if he does start, so the Colts are in a tough position this week.
T. J. Yates and Houston’s offense
Like the Colts, Houston will not have their best quarterback available for Sunday’s pivotal game after Brian Hoyer suffered another concussion against the Patriots. T.J. Yates will likely start after filling in for the final part against New England. Yates has played well in spot duty this season, leading the Texans in an upset win over the Bengals and then following up with a crucial win over the New York Jets. Yates has thrown for 302 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions so far this season and looks like a better option than Whitehurst or Hasselbeck. Yates is playing behind a better offensive line with an (arguably) better running game, and also has the seemingly unstoppable DeAndre Hopkins available, as well as good options like Cecil Shorts.
Match-up to watch
DeAndre Hopkins vs Vontae Davis
Hopkins has been one of the league’s best receivers this season, despite having mid-tier quarterbacks like Hoyer, Yates, and Ryan Mallett throwing him the ball. While he was effectively shut down by the Patriots last week, Hopkins has dominated bad defenses this season. He ranks fourth in the league with 1221 yards. Davis has been having a quiet season after playing well last year. He has had just two interceptions and hasn’t been able to lockdown opposing receivers.
The Texans will take the edge in the AFC South with a narrow win over the Colts. DeAndre Hopkins will finish with a couple of touchdowns as T.J. Yates helps Houston bounce back from two consecutive losses.