The Houston Texans host the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night, with a storm of coverage surrounding Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. The 26-year-old, who has been dogged by inconsistent play this season, missed the first game of his professional career last week, and with speculation that he had a partial shoulder subluxation.
ESPN reporter Mike Wells reported that a source had denied that the injury was that severe, claiming there was "zero truth" to the reports. On Tuesday, Luck stated that he's "preparing to start and to play" and that he's "better every day" after he took the majority of snaps in practice. Head coach Chuck Pagano said he thought Luck looked good and that he had suffered no setbacks.
"If I'm playing, I do not expect to be hindered," Luck said.
A great deal hinges on Luck following Indianapolis' slow start. The Colts entered the 2015 season as one of the favorites to come out of the AFC. They dropped their first two games to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets and would later squeak out wins over the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars by a total of five points.
Luck, a three-time Pro Bowler, has completed just 56 percent of his passes and has seven interceptions. In 2014, he threw 40 touchdown passes, and this season he only has five.
But Luck could be poised to bounce back in Week 5. He has fared well against the Texans, throwing 14 touchdown passes to three interceptions and owns a 5-1 record against the division rival. Pagano welcomes Luck back after receiving a scare from the lowly Jaguars on Sunday.
Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who made his first start since 2012, completed 30 of his 47 passes for 282 yards and one touchdown. But the Colts needed an Adam Vinatieri field goal to escape with a 16-13 overtime win at home.
The running game was of little help, with Frank Gore gaining only 53 yards on 17 carries. Meanwhile, the offensive line showed few signs of improvement allowing three sacks and seven quarterback hits. The patchwork unit has allowed eight total sacks and 27 quarterback hits through four games.
Despite their struggles, the Colts are still the team to beat in the AFC South. Fortunately for Indianapolis, their division rivals continue to experience tough times. On Sunday, the Texans failed to put up much of a fight against the Atlanta Falcons, falling 48-21. Bill O'Brien's squad turned the ball over four times, and the Texans trailed 42-0 at the end of the third quarter.
What was supposed to be one of the NFL’s top defenses featuring superstar defensive end J.J. Watt has instead plummeted to No. 26 in the league with 27 points allowed per game and a No. 23 rush defense letting up 115.3 yards per game.
The Texans are having significant trouble on offense, with starting quarterback Ryan Mallett pulled for veteran Brian Hoyer in the third quarter after going 12-for-27 for 150 yards and an interception over the course of nine possessions without a score.
O’Brien said on Monday that Mallett will still start against Indianapolis, but that he and the rest of the team must produce stronger results. Mallett has started the last three games, completing only 52.3 percent of his passes for 720 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions for a 65.3 passer rating. O'Brien was also critical of the ground game, which mustered just 54 total yards on 17 carries.
On a bright note, veteran running back Arian Foster returned to the team and had eight carries in his season debut. Foster required surgery on a torn groin muscle and missed the first three weeks of the regular season.
While his return is encouraging for a rushing attack averaging a mere 99.8 yards per game, Foster was supposed to miss upwards of two months and the Texans are likely to work him back slowly and continue to split carries with Alfred Blue and Chris Polk.
Betting Odds: Indianapolis -1.5 points
Over/Under: 45 points
Prediction: Indianapolis over Houston, 24-17