INDIANAPOLIS –For the fourth time in divisional history, the playing surface at Reliant Stadium may be the deciding ground for the AFC South title.
A victory on Sunday by Houston over the Colts will mean a second straight divisional crown for the Texans. An Indianapolis win would keep the Colts alive to possibly get it in two weeks at Lucas Oil Stadium when Houston visits.
The Colts would overtake the Texans by winning their three remaining games, even if Houston beats Minnesota on December 23. In that scenario, the Colts and Texans would tie at 12-4 and Indianapolis would gain the title based on sweeping the series.
In AFC South history, the Colts have won seven titles (2003-07, 09-10), compared to two for Tennessee (2002, 2008) and one for Houston (2011).
Houston clinched last season's division title while in Cincinnati. Three of the Colts' division titles were decided in Reliant Stadium.
A 20-17 last-second win there on December 28, 2003 handed the Colts their first division title. Indianapolis needed 17 fourth-quarter points to emerge winners, with Mike Vanderjagt hitting a 43-yard field goal at the gun.
A 23-14 win in Houston on December 12, 2004 propelled the Colts to consecutive divisional titles for the first time since 1977.
A 35-27 win from a 17-0 second-quarter deficit on November 29, 2009 allowed the Colts to become then the fourth team since 1990 to clinch a division title after 11 games.
Indianapolis was 2-14 last year and was not a factor in the race for only the second time. With a 47-17 record in the division since 2002, Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians says it is important to re-establish matters in the AFC South.
"There's no doubt," said Arians. "Houston won the division last year. Indianapolis won it seven out of the last 10. It is time to hopefully go back and re-establish ourselves as the dominant team in the division. That's our goal."
Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak has seen the Colts' divisional run since 2006.
"They had a stranglehold, I guess that's a good word. If there's anything stronger, you could use that, too. They took care of this division for a long, long time," said Kubiak. "Last year's gone. We've got to worry about this year. We've got some big, big games coming up and none bigger than this week."
Dwight Freeney joined the Colts at the division's outset and sees the challenge Houston poses.
"It's going to be a tough matchup," said Freeney. "Those guys play well. They do what they do very well, better than anybody else. It's important that we play well on the road. If we get into those playoffs, I'm pretty sure we will have some road games. You have to learn how to win big games on the road, so this is going to be important."
Arians is 8-2 in his interim role and has the club focused.
"It will be really good for us to learn how to prepare, stay within that moment of the process and then go and play a big game on the road that may or may not decide whether we play at home or on the road," said Arians. "There is no doubt that they're the top horse right now. We've got to go in there and knock them off."
Houston linebacker Connor Barwin wants to settle matters as soon as possible.
"We have an opportunity. All of our goals are ahead of us, but to do it here at home against the Colts would kind of be perfect," said Barwin. "People that have been around here obviously know the Colts ran the AFC South for a while. To beat them again, we got it last year, and to get it again this year against them would be nice."