The 2014 NFL season is only five weeks old, but it already appears that the race for the AFC South is down to two teams. The Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans will face off on “Thursday Night Football” in Week 6 with sole possession of first place on the line.
Houston has had at least a share of first place all season, but their Week 5 loss, along with Indianapolis’ win, put both teams atop the division at 3-2. The Tennessee Titans are 1-4, having lost four straight, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are one of two winless NFL teams.
The Colts head into “Thursday Night Football” having played about as well as any team in the last three weeks. After two losses to open the season, the defending AFC South champs beat the Jaguars and Titans by a combined 51 points, followed by a 20-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
Indianapolis has proven to be a well-rounded team. Against the 3-1 Ravens, the Colts won a defensive battle, allowing just one touchdown and 287 total yards. Without Robert Mathis and his 19.5 sacks from a year ago, Indianapolis sacked Joe Flacco four times and forced him to register his lowest passer rating of 2014.
The biggest reason for the Colts’ success, though, has been Andrew Luck and the offense. The quarterback leads the NFL’s No.1 passing offense, throwing for 1,617 yards and 14 touchdowns. He ranks seventh in completion percentage and passer rating.
Baltimore had a measure of success against Luck in Week 5, forcing him into two interceptions, but it’s not likely that the two-time Pro Bowler will have similar troubles against the Texans. Houston ranks 22nd in pass defense, and allowed Tony Romo to go 28-of-41 for 324 yards on Sunday. With Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton both receiving over 380 yards on the season, the Colts are the only team that has two top 10 wide outs.
While Indianapolis’ greatest strength is at the quarterback position, a majority of Houston’s troubles come from their starting signal caller. Ryan Fitzpatrick ranks 24th in passer rating, having thrown six interceptions to his five touchdowns. He’s only thrown for more scores than picks in three of his last 10 games.
The Texans don’t need Fitzpatrick to put up big numbers in order to win. Houston’s winning record is the result of a strong running game, which is led by a now-healthy Arian Foster. The league’s leading rusher from four years ago totaled 157 yards on the ground in Week 5, after running just eight times for six yards in the previous game.
Allowing 4.6 yards per carry, the Colts rank near the bottom of the league. However, Indianapolis has dominated time of possession and not trailed in a game since Week 2, limiting their opponents’ effectiveness on the ground. As a result, the Colts are giving up just 93.3 rushing yards per game in their three consecutive victories.
A win on Thursday would give Indianapolis a distinct advantage in the AFC South, already going 2-0 in the division and facing Houston at home in December. Week 6 marks the Texans’ first divisional matchup of 2014.
The Colts have been named the favorite for a fifth straight week, while the Texans are getting points for just the second time this season. The betting odds at Las Vegas casinos have the point spread listed at 2.5 points and the over/under at 46 total points.
Prediction: Following one-possession losses to likely playoff teams, the Colts have looked like one of the best teams in the AFC. They have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, and they proved against the Ravens that they won’t just beat up on bad teams. Every Thursday night game in 2014 has been a blowout, and Indianapolis might continue the trend with another big win.
Predicted Score: Indianapolis 31, Houston 17