INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts have been waiting for this one since the clock moved passed midnight back on Oct. 17.
Following that loss to the Texans, where the Colts saw a 14-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate, Chuck Pagano's team knew the rematch in Week 14 would have a pretty big say in who wins the AFC South.
What are the key ingredients to victory, presented by Papa Johns, when the Colts (6-6) take on the Texans (6-6) in Week 14?
1. Seize The Moment
-T.Y. Hilton calls Sunday "Game Seven." Players don't attribute that sort of label often, but it does apply this week with how the AFC South currently looks, and where the Colts fall into the tiebreaker picture. The Colts lost their first two divisional games in 2016, including one in Houston. That is why the winner on Sunday has a stranglehold on the division lead with three weeks left in the season. A loss would be crippling to one's playoff hopes.
2. Young Linebackers Ready?
-D'Qwell Jackson, the defensive signal caller for the Colts since 2014 and the team's leading tackler, has been suspended for the rest of the regular season. That means Edwin Jackson (a 2015 undrafted free agent) and Antonio Morrison (a 2016 fourth-round pick) are the team's starting linebackers down the stretch. Communication has to be smooth between defensive coordinator Ted Monachino and Jackson. Any frantic moments pre-snap from the Colts is something the Texans will be looking to exploit.
3. Keep The Fast Starts Coming
-In each of the last three wins for the Colts, they've scored at least 14 first-quarter points. Fast starts are always desired. That especially holds true this week. Houston's ranks 29th in points per game this season. They've scored more than two offensive touchdowns just once all season long (in a Week Six win over the Colts). A fast start on Sunday for the Colts would force the Texans to do something they have had virtually no success in doing this season.
4. Lean On Home Faithful
-Despite losing three home games already this season, the Colts still have a chance at a playoff berth (which would bring another home game in the postseason). Houston's quarterback Brock Osweiler is the league's 31st ranked passer, so any distractions from a noise standpoint could rattle the former second-round pick even more. Andrew Luck hasn't lost a home divisional start since Week Three of his rookie season. The Colts need to make sure Houston's feels the 1-13 record that the Texans have all-time in Indianapolis.
5. Time To Shadow?
-It was a very effective night back in October for Vontae Davis covering DeAndre Hopkins. When Davis followed Hopkins around, the Pro Bowl corner held the Pro Bowl receiver to four catches in eight targets, with an interception thrown in there. It should not be a surprise to anyone if Davis is shadowing Hopkins for large chunks on Sunday.
6. Winning The Trenches
-This was one of the major keys in the Colts' 41-10 win over the Jets last Monday. The offensive line was terrific in allowing just one sack, and paving the way for the second most rushing yards the Jets have allowed this season. Defensively, the Colts' front has to do its part, too. Houston running back Lamar Miller had a season-high 149 rushing yards back when these teams met in Week Six.
7. Watch The Tight Ends
-Both teams rely a lot on their tight ends. Dwayne Allen (who left the team's first meeting in the first quarter) and Jack Doyle have nine combined touchdowns this season. Houston's top two tights have combined for 83 catches in 2016. That's news to the Colts with Clayton Geathers likely out and the Colts expanding the roles, including pass coverage, big time for inside linebacker Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison.