The AFC South has been won by the Colts or Texans each of the past 6 years. It's likely one of them takes it again & Thursday Night will help decide which. It's a pick'em on the NFL odds.
Better To Be Luck-y Than ...
Let's start with the clear story line first and that's the status of Colts Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck -- who isn't having a very good season thus far. There was no line posted on this game until Wednesday because Luck missed Sunday's 16-13 overtime win over Jacksonville with a shoulder injury. There are conflicting reports out of Indianapolis on just what the injury is exactly. There have been some reporting it's a partial separation or subluxation. I'm not a doctor so I'm not going into that. The Colts are denying it's that, just saying Luck is day-to-day. However, he took the majority of snaps at practice on Tuesday and Luck says he expects to play. "If I'm playing, I do not expect to be hindered," Luck said. Not sure if I agree with that if it was serious enough to keep him out Sunday.
But the Colts probably figured they could beat the Jaguars without Luck -- and they barely did with ancient backup QB Matt Hasselbeck starting a game for the first time since 2012. I'd be a tad worried here if I'm a Colts backer because that Indy offensive line has been one of the NFL's worst this season and there's a guy named J.J. Watt on Houston who can cause a bit of havoc and potentially re-injure Luck's shoulder. But this is an important division game and then Luck can get some extra rest ahead of an AFC Championship Game rematch in Week 6 against New England.
Might Indy to run more Thursday to save wear-and-tear on Luck? The Colts might try but they only rank 26th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 87.5 yards per game. Frank Gore hasn't given Indy what it was hoping for -- but the offensive line also is to blame some. Houston is No. 22 against the run (115.3 ypg) and No. 11 against the pass (229.0 ypg).
Keep an eye on the status of Indy's best cornerback, Vontae Davis. He's dealing with a foot injury and is in question. But starting left cornerback Greg Toler (neck) is cleared to return to action this week against the Texans. Toler has yet to play in 2015.
The Colts, who lead the AFC South despite only a 2-2 record, are 0-4 against the spread on NFL odds and 1-3 'over/under.'
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Texans Need To Find A QB
Houston would love to have even 75 percent of Andrew Luck right now because lousy quarterback play is the biggest reason why the Texans are a disappointing 1-3. They were totally outclassed Sunday in Atlanta, 48-21. Ryan Mallett, who has started since Week 2, continued to struggle. He was just 12-for-27 for 150 yards with a pick and was mercifully pulled for Brian Hoyer, the Week 1 starter, with Houston down 42-0. Hoyer completed 17 of 30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns but that was all garbage time.
So even though Mallett is dead last in the NFL in completion percentage at 51.8 and is 33rd of 34 qualified QBs in rating (Luck is 34th), he remains the starter over Hoyer for now. It doesn't sound like Coach Bill O'Brien is fully behind him, however, so you may see Hoyer in this one. Shoot, maybe it's time to try second-year QB Tom Savage.
Mallett almost surely will be without one of Houston's top receivers, Cecil Shorts III. He suffered a dislocated shoulder on the final play of Sunday's game. Shorts has 22 catches for 236 yards and a TD. Even with Houston's struggles at QB, Texans No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins is having a fine season with 31 catches for 409 yards and three scores. He enters with back-to-back 100-yard games. Hopkins is on pace for a whopping 244 targets, which would break the 1997 record of 208 set by Arizona's Rob Moore.
Expect plenty of tailback Arian Foster on Thursday. He made his season debut off groin surgery against Atlanta and was quiet, but he has terrific career numbers vs. Indy with 960 yards and eight scores in eight games.
Houston is 1-3 ATS on NFL picks this season and 2-1-1 O/U.
The Colts swept and actually have won 15 straight vs. AFC South teams. The last loss the Colts had in the AFC South was back in Week 15 of the 2012 season, in Houston. In last year's game in Houston, also on a Thursday, Indy won 33-28. The Colts blew out to a 24-0 first-quarter lead and then had to hang on for dear life. The Texans had two opportunities to take the lead late, but the Colts recovered fumbles by receiver Andre Johnson and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the last five minutes. Both those guys are former Texans now. Luck threw for 370 yards and three scores but was picked off once and had a fourth-quarter fumble returned 45 yards by Watt for a touchdown -- that was the final score of the game.
NFL Free Picks: I'm taking host Houston to end Indy's South winning streak. Luck can't be 100 percent. The Texans are 5-2 ATS in their past seven after a loss. The home team has covered seven of the past 10 in the series.