INDIANAPOLIS – The AFC South banners were in clear sight during this week's practice for the Indianapolis Colts.
Mother Nature forced the Colts into their indoor practice facility and with that came a closer look at the goal at hand.
AFC South Championship banners from 2003-2007 and 2009-2010 don the south wall and the players inside of that building this week are looking to make room for another one.
The next step in that process comes on Sunday night when the Colts hit the road to take on the two-time defending AFC South champs.
"There's a saying - to be the champ, you got to beat the champ. They're the champ, so in order to get it back, we just got to go down there and handle our business," outside linebacker Robert Mathis said earlier this week.
Houston has made the divisional round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons but has struggled through the first two months of the 2013 regular season.
Putting injuries aside, Houston has benched Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub and will go with Case Keenum for his second ever NFL start.
Chuck Pagano knows the intensity that divisional games bring and the Colts head coach says you can "throw all the records out" during such matchups.
"We know how difficult this game's going to be and what this means to the team we're playing. Regardless of where we stand right now, it don't mean a hill of beans to them," Pagano said.
"All they know is it's a division game. They win it, they're right in the race. It's going to be an extremely difficult task to go down there and play well and win this football game."
Over the next nine weeks, the Colts will play five AFC South contests and look to expand the two-game divisional lead they bring into the final two months of the season.
It starts with a trip to Houston, a place the Colts haven't won since 2009.
For the last two seasons, it's the Texans who have hosted a home playoff game and played multiple weeks into January.
Now, it's the Colts who want to play in front of their home fans come January and a win on Sunday would go a long way in accomplishing that"We know what our ultimate goal is. First and foremost, our number one goal is to win the division," Pagano said on Wednesday.
"The road to winning the division goes through Houston. Right now, our total focus is on Houston. We know that in order to give ourselves a chance to win the division, we've got to beat them."INTERESTING MATCHUPSTexans quarterback Case Keenum versus the Colts defense:Keenum will make his second career NFL start when the Colts head to Reliant Stadium on Sunday night. Playing in the same city he played his college ball, Keenum might be without his top two running back options in Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The Colts secondary has performed very well in 2013 but is dealing with several injuries (CB-Greg Toler, S-Delano Howell and CB-Josh Gordy).Colts offensive line versus the Texans front seven: The Colts offense will play its first game without Reggie Wayne since the 2001 season. That means an added emphasis up front in both protecting Andrew Luck and opening up running lanes. Houston has the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL and the unit is led by a line that includes Pro Bowlers Antonio Smith and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.Quick Facts
-The Colts have committed the fewest turnovers (six) and penalties (28) in the NFL.
-In two career games vs. Houston, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 95.8 quarterback rating.
-Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis (11.5 sacks) needs a half sack to set a new career-high and his 15.5 sacks against the Texans are the most vs. any team.
-Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson averages 81.6 receiving yards per game, best in NFL history (minimum 100 games).
-Texans defensive end J.J. Watt leads the NFL with 25 sacks since 2012. He had 3.0 last year against Indianapolis.
-Texans safety Ed Reed leads active players with 61 interceptions, including four against the Colts.
NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on the focus of winning divisional games):
-"First and foremost, it's huge. We know, again, what our ultimate goal is. First and foremost, our number one goal is to win the division. The road to winning the division goes through Houston. They've won it the last two years. We've got to go down there and play very, very well. Try to win this game in order to give ourselves a chance to win the division. Right now, our total focus is on Houston. We know that in order to give ourselves a chance to win the division, we've got to beat them."Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on what makes Houston's defense so formidable):
"They've got game-wreckers all over the place. They got a front seven that is as good as anybody in football. They've got probably the best defensive player in football in J.J. Watt. Antonio Smith, (Earl) Mitchell, number 92. Two edge guys that are tough and rugged, can rush the passer and (Whitney) Mercilus and (Brooks) Reed. The inside backers are outstanding. (Johnathan) Joseph and (Kareem) Jackson on the corners. You got Eddie Reed, a future Hall-of-Famer, at safety. Even though they lost Manning and they lost Cushing, again, they've got guys backing up. (D.J.) Swearinger is a young guy that has come in and played well and Shiloh Keo is another guy. They got a tremendous front. Very, very hard to run the football on them. When you drop back to pass, very, very hard to protect the quarterback."Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck(on the challenge of going on the road in the division):
-"Absolutely. From our perspective, (it's) the number one defense in the NFL in a lot of categories, a premier player in J.J. Watt and a lot of other premier players around him, on the road in a hostile atmosphere. It's a big challenge, and we're excited about it, a great measuring stick."
Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak(on what he points his finger to for the early season struggles):
-"I don't know if you can put your finger on one thing. We have not played clean as a football team. Obviously the big, big part, when you're sitting, what are we 29th, 30th, 31st in turnover margin, when you're down there, you're going to have a hard time winning. We put ourselves in some very poor positions in football games, got behind. Then we've had a couple really close football games that we didn't make the plays to make the difference against Seattle and against Kansas City last week. That's this league. It's a very difficult league and we're battling some injuries and those things, but everybody does that in this league. You got to find a way to work through it. Trying to focus on ourselves, cleaning up our football play and not hurting ourselves the way we've been hurting us and trying to just be more consistent."Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak(on if the Texans are approaching these games as "win now"):
-"Yeah, no doubt. Every game's huge for us. But what we're trying to do really is focus on ourselves. Up until two weeks ago we had played just such error-filled football, whether it was turning it over, whether it was giving up big plays, special teams, penalties. We had been just hurting ourselves as a team so poorly that we're really just trying to go back and refocus on ourselves, our football and playing better. If we do that, we're going to have our opportunities to win games, so we're trying to really stay focused on ourselves. We understand the magnitude of the game. We understand how we got to battle to get ourselves back in this thing. But the only way we're going to do that is just to play better."Texans Quarterback Case Keenum(on what the veterans are telling the younger Texans about divisional games):
-"I think that a lot of the guys have been around here for a while. Indy is a pretty, we know a lot about Indy. We have a lot of game film on them. Obviously it's a tough matchup being one of the best defenses in the league and an offense that's playing really, really well right now. We're going to try to keep the ball out of their offense's hands. I think it's good to have veteran guys in our locker room that have been here a while and have been in a lot of games, a lot of big games with the Colts. I'm definitely going to pay attention to those guys and when they have something to say, listen."