By Sam McPherson
No matter what has happened before this moment, the Houston Texans face the ultimate test this weekend on the road against the Indianapolis Colts. It’s a one-game showdown, basically, for the AFC South Division title. The winner of Sunday’s game will have a very big inside track to winning the division and securing the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs, which means a home playoff game against the top wild-card team.
Both teams enter this showdown with backup quarterbacks at the helm, as the starters are injured. Houston’s Brian Hoyer suffered another concussion last week, so T.J. Yates will get the nod for the Texans. Meanwhile, aged veteran Matt Hasselbeck leads the Indianapolis offense in the continued absence of Andrew Luck. It’s a strange twist to have the division title decided by backup QBs, but the AFC South has been odd this year, to be sure.
If Houston Wins
Assume the Texans beat the Colts. Houston would have a 7-7 record with two games remaining at Tennessee and at home against Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Indianapolis would be 6-8 with games remaining against Miami on the road and Tennessee at home. The Titans are a bad team, while the Jaguars just pounded the Colts, 51-16, to keep the tie intact atop the division. The Dolphins are mostly done, too.
Houston would be in the driver’s seat after a win, although securing the division with two more wins would not be a gimme—Jacksonville’s offense can score points in a hurry. However, all things considered, the Texans would be happy to have that challenge in Week 17 for the division crown, obviously.
But If Indy Wins …
The Colts would be favored to win their final two games, thus clinching the division rather easily. It would be improbable for Houston to win their final two while Indianapolis lost its final two games. That’s what makes this game on Sunday a de factodivision title game. The Texans absolutely cannot afford to lose this game, period.
Hasselbeck Vs. Yates
The Colts QB has started 158 regular-season games in his 17-year NFL career. That’s 10 seasons worth of starting experience. Meanwhile, Yates has started a mere six regular-season games in his five-year NFL career. Hasselbeck led the Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl appearance in the 2005 postseason. Yates is 1-1 in the postseason, as he led the Texans into the 2011 postseason after starter Matt Schaub went down with an injury.
The advantage definitely goes to Indianapolis in terms of the backup QB battle, especially since the Colts are playing at home. However, Yates has shown capability in his brief moments, and the Houston roster and coaching staff have confidence in him. Otherwise, they would not have brought him back this season when they needed a new backup for Hoyer. Yates, remember, handed the Cincinnati Bengals their first loss of the season on the road earlier in Week 10 on a touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Without that huge victory, the Texans would not be in this position right now.
It’s Up To The Texans Defense
After a stellar four-game stretch of defense that helped Houston get back into the AFC South race, the last two games have been less than stellar as the Texans have lost both games to AFC East opponents. The offense should be able to score on the Colts defense, which isn’t very good. However, the Houston defense has to do its job against Hasselbeck and running back Frank Gore.
The Texans held Tom Brady to under 200 passing yards last week even though defensive end J.J. Watt was diminished with a broken hand in a cast, and if Houston’s defense can manage that effort again against Indianapolis, they should be in good shape to win the game. Watt and the Texans know they can do it – now they just have to do it. The 2015 season depends on it, after all.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.