Week 17 Preview: Houston in a Must-Win Against Indianapolis
By: Kim O'Hara | Posted: December 28, 2012
Houston was the class of the AFC this season. Until, of course, it traveled to New England and was exposed in a very real way before losing decisively to Minnesota at home in Week 16. The Texans have punched their postseason ticket and clinched the AFC South, but the first week bye and homefield advantage that seemed inevitable these past seventeen weeks could be slipping away.
The Texans must win Sunday against the Colts to wrap up the #1 seed in the playoffs. Both Denver and New England are still in contention for the top spot, but Houston would have to help. If the 12-3 Texans lose and 12-3 Denver wins, the Broncos will be the #1; the 11-4 Patriots are a full game behind, but hold head-to-head tiebreakers over the Texans and the Broncos. Both teams will have to lose along with a New England victory for Gillette Stadium to (once again) be the on-paper site of the AFC Championship. If the Texans lose and both the Broncos and Patriots win, Reliant Stadium will be once again hosting Cincinnati in the Wild Card round. If TJ Yates were under center, we'd be talking some serious deja vu.
Houston provided Indianapolis with a bit of a wake-up call two weeks ago; the 29-17 win wasn't a blow-out, but it was never close enough for rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to start any of his comeback mojo flowing. But the Colts have exhibited some of their worst performances on the road, dropping four of their five losses away from home. With a 6-1 home record, the Colts are a different team at Lucas Oil Stadium. Throw in the emotional boost that will surely accompany head coach Chuck Pagano's return to the sideline and Sunday's game, and the AFC #1 seed along with it, becomes anything but certain.
Prior to the Week 15 matchup between these two teams, we reviewed the decline of Houston's defense, likely related to injury. The linebacker position in particular has been ravaged, most noticeably with the absence of Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed. The Texans are providing less pressure up front, and opponents are responding. A team hasn't scored fewer than 17 points against Houston since Week 10. The offense also stalled last week against Minnesota in an unexpected all-phases collapse, the type of loss a team hates to see at any point, let alone in its penultimate regular season showing.
Houston has looked more vulnerable in two of the past three weeks than it has most of the season, rendering a first round bye all the more vital. Lucas Oil stadium will be raucous and rocking Sunday afternoon. A fanbase that had anticipated a rebuilding year full of growing pains has instead witnessed an epic growth spurt, as their rookie quarterback and a pair of first-time head coaches have guided their team to a postseason berth. Pagano's return from three months of chemotherapy treatment will be cause for celebration (and lots of noise) in Indianapolis. The atmosphere will be electric, with a distinct playoff-ish feel to it.
In fact, Houston's performance Sunday will be something of a litmus test for their playoff potential. If the Texans lack the heart and technical execution to notch one final regular season win and with it, the #1 seed, don't expect to see them suiting up beyond the divisional round.
Kim O'Hara is the Associate Editor of TheFootballGirl.com. She is an avid fan of sports in general, but the NFL in particular. She has also been a contributor to ESPN the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @KimOHaraTFG
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