INDIANAPOLIS –The AFC South has existed since 2002, and Indianapolis has found the division to its liking.
It just has not liked it quite as much recently as in the past.
The Colts won seven of the first nine division titles, doing so from 2003-07 and in 2008 and 2010.
After failing to win the inaugural title in 2002 in being swept by Tennessee, the club enjoyed a five-year run until finishing behind the Titans in 2010.
The two teams kept a stranglehold on the South until 2011, when Houston won the division with a 10-6 record. At 11-2, Houston is perched with the best chance to get this year's title. The only team that has a say about it is the Colts, who at 9-4 play the Texans twice in the next three games.
The Texans can clinch the division crown with a win this Sunday in hosting the Colts. While Houston already has clinched a playoff berth, Indianapolis can delay the division title being decided if it can post its first win in Reliant Stadium since 2009.
"There is no doubt that they're the top horse right now," said Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians. "We've got to go in there and knock them off."
Houston saw its six-game winning streak stopped Monday at New England in a 42-14 loss. The Colts have won seven of their last eight games and stand in good shape in the playoff hunt.
One more win in the last three games (two against Houston and one at Kansas City) will clinch a playoff berth.
Even with losses in the three remaining games, it would take Pittsburgh and Cincinnati winning every game while tying each other in the remaining head-to-head battle on December 23 to keep Indianapolis from the post-season.
Arians, like every coach, sets his sights only on winning. He is like others as well in wanting his team to establish a firm divisional identity.
The Colts are 3-1 in the division this year. Indianapolis is 47-17 all-time against AFC South foes. Only New England is better at 52-13. New England's nine AFC East titles since 2002 are the most, followed by the Colts' seven.
Arians wants the club to establish itself again by strong performances against Houston.
"There's no doubt," said Arians of wanting the Colts to play strongly. "We should have a perfect record in the division. We gave a game away. 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."
Indianapolis was 6-0 in the division in 2005 and 2009, 5-1 in 2003-04 and 2007 and 4-2 in 2002, 2008 and 2010. The only time it finished at .500 was in 2006, the team's world championship season. Only in 2011 (2-4) did the Colts have a losing divisional record.
The Colts swept Tennessee this year and split with Jacksonville, with the Jaguars getting a final-minute 80-yard touchdown pass in Indianapolis to derail the Colts, 22-17.
COLTS PLAYOFF SCENARIOS – Indianapolis clinches a playoff berth this week with a win. The Colts also can clinch with a tie, plus a loss or tie by either Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. Indianapolis can clinch also with a tie, plus a Baltimore win. It happens also with a loss or tie by the New York Jets, plus a Cincinnati loss. The final scenario is with a loss or tie by the Jets, plus a Baltimore win, plus ties by Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.