Andrew Luck’s return to the spotlight has gone pretty well for the Indianapolis Colts. There were some uncertain times for the Colts when Luck’s throwing shoulder prevented him from playing for the better part of two years, but he’s back and quite possibly better than ever. As a result, the Colts are back in the playoffs and they’ll draw the AFC South champion Texans in the first of four Wild Card Weekend games set for the first Saturday and Sunday of 2019.
The Texans are a 2.5-point favorite with a total of 47.5 for the first of two games on Saturday. Early betting action hasn’t shown us much, but with the Colts riding a nice wave and the Texans heading into the playoffs as something of a regression candidate in the minds of most sharp bettors, it won’t be long before we see some movement on this game in all likelihood.
“Just Win, Baby”
It wasn’t pretty at times for the Colts against Blaine Gabbert and the Titans in Week 17. The final score makes it look like a laugher, but it was anything but, as there were a lot of dicey moments. On the other hand, the Colts statistically dominated the game. It was a pick six and a short-field touchdown that kept the game closer than it actually was. After all, the Colts held a 436-258 edge and had 24 first downs to Tennessee’s 11.
Houston’s Week 17 performance was, in fact, a domination. The hapless Jags managed three points and six first downs. They ran 47 plays to Houston’s 74. The Texans only had 4.6 yards per play, but more concerning was how often Deshaun Watson was hit. The Clemson product was sacked six times and had to run 13 times for 66 yards because Lamar Miller couldn’t find open room to roam.
How We Got Here
Since opening the season just 1-5, the Colts have gone 9-1 and have outgained the opposition in every game since the bye week and in nine of the 10 games since Week 6. In some ways, these teams are relatively equal. The Colts are outgaining opponents by 0.3 yards per play. The Texans are outgaining opponents by 0.2 yards per play. Indianapolis has averaged 5.8 yards per play to Houston’s 5.6, but the Colts have also run 30 more plays and have thrown the ball 644 times against 408 rushing attempts. Houston’s been a lot more balanced between run and pass.
Defensively, the Texans have 29 takeaways and the Colts have 26. The difference is that the Texans are +13 in turnover margin and the Colts are only +2. Take away the Buffalo game in Week 7, in which the Colts were +5 in turnover margin, and they are exactly even in turnover margin. That should give Colts backers a little piece of mind here that there is nothing fluky about what they’ve done.
Houston started 0-3 and could very well have been 0-6 with overtime wins over Indianapolis and Dallas in Weeks 4 and 5 and a win over Buffalo in Week 6 in which the Texans were outgained. Since that Week 6 performance, the Texans have only turned the ball over five times and have only turned the ball over in three of their 10 games.
Third Time to Be a Charm
One of the nicest things about divisional matchups in the playoffs is that we have two regular season data points to consider. These two data points could be a big factor in the way that this line moves. In two games against the Texans, the Colts threw for 437 yards and 386 yards. Only the Eagles in Week 16 threw for more yards on the Texans, but when Houston has faced better opposing quarterbacks, they have struggled.
The winner advances in the playoffs and also gets bragging rights for the season. The Colts badly outgained the Texans in the second meeting, but the seesaw first game did see Houston rack up 466 yards as well.
Ice Tubs and Muscle Rubs
There are some noteworthy injuries for this game. The Injured Reserve list for the Colts is extensive, but the primary concern for this week’s game is the status of Ryan Kelly. Any weakness on the offensive line can be exposed by guys like JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Kelly is listed as questionable with a neck injury.
On the Houston side, Keke Coutee would be a nice luxury to have at wide receiver to take a little bit of attention away from Nuk Hopkins. The bigger concerns are on defense, where JJ Watt is nursing a hand injury and Johnathan Joseph sat out last week’s game with a neck injury.
This game may come down to one simple thing – red zone efficiency. The Colts were fifth in touchdown percentage at a nice and robust 69 percent (if we round up from 68.8 percent). Defensively, Indianapolis finished just outside the top 10, holding opponents to a 53.5 percent TD%.
Houston was bad both ways. The Texans scored a touchdown on only 30 of their 60 red zone trips. Opponents only had 41 red zone trips, but made the most of them with 29 touchdowns. The Texans finished the regular season 27th on offense and 29th on defense in that category.
A lot of people are going to be on the Colts here and likely with good reason. The Texans have a really marginal statistical profile for an 11-5 team, but there is a ton of individual talent. The two key areas that are likely to decide this game are turnovers and red zone efficiency. It is hard to handicap both of those, which makes this is a much tougher handicap than it appears on the surface.
This is a short week with a quick turnaround after physical games for both teams and the travel could certainly impact the Colts, but Indianapolis is playing better right now and looks has a much improved defense since the first meeting.
We’ll go with the Colts +2.5, but also look to sprinkle the money line a little bit. As far as the total goes, teams do tend to tighten up in the playoffs, but a slight lean to the over seems fair with some big play capabilities and two dynamic quarterbacks.