As the NFL season enters the final few weeks, an AFC South showdown will be one of the better matchups of Week 13. The 7-4 Indianapolis Colts are coming off of a disappointing effort to fall out of first place in the division but look to get back on track this week. They'll travel to the Lone Star State to play the 4-7 Houston Texans, who capped off a solid November with a Thanksgiving victory.
Here is a preview for Sunday's matchup between the Colts and Texans, complete with a free pick. As it stands, Indianapolis is a three-point favorite on the road. Kickoff is at 1:00 P.M. Eastern on CBS.
You won't find a lot of teams more challenging to read than the Colts. One week, they'll look like true contenders, evident in showings like their back-to-back wins against the Titans and Packers. But in other weeks, like in their Week 1 loss to the Jaguars and last week's disappointment against Tennessee, they'll seem a step or two behind the league's best team. But quarterback Philip Rivers and company will have three divisional games and bouts against the Raiders and Steelers to cement their place in the postseason for just the second time in six years.
Starting on offense, Indianapolis is still averaging an excellent 27.5 points per game, the ninth-most in the NFL. They are 10th in passing yards but 21st in rushing yards, which puts them 14th in the league with 376.6 total yards per game. However, one area where Indianapolis really struggles is on third down, where their 37.6 percent conversation rate is the fifth-lowest in football.
While the Colts' offense is decent, their defense has truly helped them get to where they are at 7-4. One of the stingier teams to move the ball against, Indy allows just 326 total yards per game, the third-fewest in football. This is thanks to a strong balance of pass defense and run defense, which allows 210 and 102 yards per game, respectively. They're also within the top-10 in points allowed, averaging just 23. While the 23 sacks as a team are somewhat pedestrian, the Colts make up 12 interceptions, the fourth-most in football.
If you could eliminate the first four weeks of the NFL season in hindsight, we'd probably think much higher of the Texans this season. A brutal opening stretch of games got Houston off to an 0-4 start, eventually costing head coach Bill O'Brien his job. But the team has fought under interim head coach Romeo Crennel, going 4-3 since to carry some momentum heading into next season. They're playing arguably their best football of the season now, where quarterback Deshaun Watson led the charge with consecutive wins against the Patriots and the Lions on Thanksgiving, and good timing with two games against Indy and one against Tennessee still on deck.
Thanks to the star that is Watson, Houston is averaging 24.4 points per game, 17th in football, due to a passing game that currently ranks third. But that point total would likely be even better if the Texans could run, as the team's 84 rushing yards per game is the second-lowest in the NFL. As a result of the run game, they are only 15th with 375 yards per game, one spot behind Indianapolis, and 16th with a 41.5 third-down conversion percentage.
On the flip side, the defense for Houston needs a lot of work. The Texans allow the second-most yards per game with close to 424 and give up a mediocre 27 points. As poor as they have been running the ball, they've been just as bad stopping the run, with the second-worst mark of 155 rushing yards allowed per game. They're also 23rd with 255 passing yards allowed and in the bottom-five in third-down defense. Finally, while Houston actually has more sacks than the Colts do with 25, they are also tied with the Eagles for three interceptions as a team, the lowest total in football.
Houston's receiving core took a bit of a hit this week when Will Fuller V announced on Instagram he has been suspended for six games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substance policy. Fuller claimed to be taking a prescribed medication he thought was permissible under the policy, but this was not the case. Fuller will miss the final five games of this season and the first game of the 2021 season.
Cornerback Bradley Roby was also suspended for six games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Fuller leads the Texans in receptions (53), receiving yards (789), and touchdowns (eight). Roby is tied for the team lead in passes defended and is one of three Texans with an interception.
Starting with the visitors, the Colts are 6-5 against the spread, including 3-2 on the road. On the one hand, they have dominated Houston lately, going 7-0-1 ATS in their last eight games at NRG Stadium. They're also 6-1 ATS and 5-2 straight up in their previous seven games versus the Texans overall. However, the Colts are 1-4 ATS in their last five conference games and are 1-5 straight up in their last six divisional contests.
Meanwhile, the Texans' record ATS matches their overall record at 4-7, just as their 2-3 home record is the same for both. In addition to their woes against the Colts, Houston is just 3-6 ATS in their last nine games against AFC opponents. However, they are a strong 5-2 straight up in their previous seven games within the AFC South.
Sunday's game is crucial for the Colts, who are fighting with several teams for an AFC Wild Card spot at the moment. But I think the Texans give them a fight. Without facing enormous pressure when dropping back, Watson should be able to keep Houston in the game the entire time, even without his top receiver, Fuller. Even if it's just a cover, give me the Texans and the points in this one to pull off the upset.
Pick: Houston Texans (+3).