INDIANAPOLIS – For the sixth straight season the Colts/Texans contest in Indianapolis takes place in the final month of the season.
Those sneaky NFL schedule makers believe Colts/Texans is a matchup worthy of late-season drama.
Such a statement has never been truer with these teams getting together Sunday afternoon inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Sunday's stakes are so high for a couple of reasons.
The first being the final quarter of the NFL season begins with three AFC South teams tied atop the division at 6-6 (Colts, Texans and Titans).
What happened when the Colts and Texans first met in 2016 is a major factor in why Sunday's winner will have one hand on the AFC South crown going into the last three games of the season.
The Colts would rather forget what happened in that 26-23 overtime loss in October.
"There were some critical errors and they made the plays when they needed to be made and we didn't," Andrew Luck says of the Colts blowing a 23-9 fourth-quarter lead back in Week Six.
"There was a momentum shift in that game," tight end Dwayne Allen says. "I felt from start to finish, or from start to almost-finish, we had control of the game and then there was just an incredible momentum shift and once it shifted they took over.
"We were dominating. We felt like we were in control of the game the entire game and then all of a sudden, boom."
It's why T.Y. Hilton sees Sunday about the closest thing the NFL can have to an elimination game in Week 14.
"It's Game Seven. Must win," Hilton says.
"We know what we need to do. We left our foot off the gas the last time we played them. But now we feel good, we feel like if we have (a team) down, we go for the kill."
The Colts play one of the bigger regular season games ever contested inside of Lucas Oil Stadium without the man who's been in the middle of their defense for every game since 2014.
D'Qwell Jackson's suspension has given the signal calling reigns to Edwin Jackson.
It's another challenge that new defensive coordinator Ted Monachino has been dealt this season.
Going into the most important part of the year, Monachino could very well be starting three rookies this week.
Monachino assured those this week that no matter who is on the field for him, that side of the ball is highly motivated after what happened in Houston earlier this season.
"I know that this game means an awful lot to our players," Monachino says.
"It means an awful lot to our city and to our club. They are really excited for the opportunity to go back in there and redeem themselves a little bit."
INTERESTING MATCHUPSHouston running back Lamar Miller versus the Colts inside linebackers:When these teams met back in Week Six, Miller had a season-high 149 yards on 6.2 yards per carry. Corralling Miller this week is even more of an importance, with the Colts no longer having signal caller D'Qwell Jackson at inside linebacker. Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison will handle the communication duties for the rest of the regular season.
Colts offensive line versus the Texans defensive front: Coming off arguably the best offensive line effort in 2016, the Colts won't have starting right guard Denzelle Good (concussion) on Sunday. That will shift some things up front, with Joe Haeg likely moving inside to right guard, and Joe Reitz re-joining the starting lineup at right tackle. The Texans are dealing with their own major injuries up front. J.J. Watt is of course on injured reserve still. However, 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadaveon Clowney (elbow/wrist) said he will play
- The Colts are 13-1 all-time at home against the Texans.
- In nine career games against the Texans, T.Y. Hilton has 46 catches for 827 yards and six touchdowns.
- Quarterback Andrew Luck has won nine straight divisional home games. Luck's only home AFC South loss came in Week Three of his 2012 rookie season.
- The Texans have won eight straight divisional games.
- The Texans are looking for their first ever season sweep against the Colts.
- Houston has scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game just once this season (in the Week Six win over the Colts).
NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on his memories of the Colts' 23-9 loss to the Texans from October):
"I remember us playing really well and being up, I don't know, was it 23-9? Five minutes to go or three minutes to go and then an artery opened up and blood started gushing and we didn't have enough gauze and tape and bandages to stop the bleeding so it's the same thing, that's momentum and they caught fire and we couldn't do anything about it, didn't do anything about it. You learn from that, you watch it and you grow and see how it happened and what you have to do to prevent that from happening or at least stop the bleeding if you will."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on Antonio Morrison replacing D'Qwell Jackson):
"I mean really he's played a significant role for us on special teams and that's it. We've got a small sample size. Got some significant snaps last week. Got on the field there late in the game, made some plays. Antonio is tough, he's smart, he knows the defense inside and out, he's a downhill tackle-to-tackle, sideline-to-sideline run and hit guy. He'll do a great job."
Colts Tight End Dwayne Allen(on how important Sunday's game is with the Texans):
"A lot of people came to me before the Monday night game. 'Are you excited? We are playing on Monday night.' It's an exciting stage. (But) this game this weekend? That's exciting. This is what you play the game for. As T.Y. (Hilton) said it best. This is a Game Seven atmosphere. You win this one, you take first place and you control your destiny."
Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien(on the frustration of three straight one-possession losses):
"We need to do a better job, we are not scoring enough points. We look at it and feel like we are close. Against Green Bay it was a mistake here or there, we only had one three-and-out against Green Bay but we would drive the ball and maybe a turnover or a penalty or a tackle for a loss or something like that, an incompletion (would happen). We feel like we are close and we need to get going here."
Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien(on how quickly things changed when these teams met in October):
"Whenever you play the Colts you have to play 60 minutes. Houston versus Indianapolis is a rivalry, it is always a tough game. Two really good coaching staffs, a lot of good players, you just never know in this league when the game is going to turn. You have to keep playing, play the next play, you can't let one play get you down and you can't let one play get you too high. You have to play every play and that is kind of the way these games have gone."
Texans Quarterback Brock Osweiler(on the impotence of this Sunday):
"It certainly feels like a playoff game. I know personally our football team knows how important this game is. We know that it is a must-win game if we want to accomplish the goals that we set out for early in the year. I know the Colts feel the same exact way so I expect this game to be played in a playoff-like atmosphere and I am sure both teams are going to give it everything they have."