INDIANAPOLIS – Who will represent the AFC South come January won't be decided for a few more months.
However, there's no denying the importance Thursday night will play in deciding the 2014 AFC South champion.
The Colts (3-2) head to Houston (3-2) on a short week, riding a three-game winning streak and trying to keep a nine-game divisional win streak alive in a place where they last suffered an AFC South loss in Week 15 of the 2012 season.
A divisional contest doesn't appear on the Colts schedule again until November 23, so a victory on Thursday would put Indianapolis in the early driver's seat to capture a 10th AFC South crown.
"If we could go 3-0 to start our division slate off that would be huge," quarterback Andrew Luck said earlier this week.
"Obviously, it's no cake walk though. It's tough. Playing in Houston's tough, against a defense that's playing very well, very hot. But yeah, it'd be huge."
Houston is also off to a 3-2 start, with an opportune defense that is among the league's best at creating takeaways.
Last year, the Texans were last in the NFL with 11 forced turnovers.
They come into Week Six leading the league with 12 takeaways with the most eye-popping part coming with nine of those occurring in the red zone.
It's a defense that ranks 26th in the NFL in yards allowed, but fourth in points allowed, thanks to those timely turnovers.
High atop the Colts priority list going into Thursday night is where All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt will be lining up.
Watt once again leads the NFL in quarterback hits (16) and his disruptive presence can alter an offensive game plan.
"He's always a guy you have to account for in pass protection, in the run game and everything that we install," tight end Coby Fleener says of arguably the game's best defensive player.
"He's got a really high motor, he's an unbelievable athlete, great work ethic. He's what a football player should be, constantly working his butt off to get better."
Flip over to the Colts side of things and the Indianapolis defense has put together a string of impressive performances.
No bigger than last Sunday when Gerg Manusky's unit forced three turnovers, sacked Joe Flacco four times (after he hadn't been sacked in 91 straight pass attempts) and held the Ravens to just 1-of-11 on third-down.
"We're getting sacks, we're getting turnovers, run defense is good, we're holding people out of the end zone," Chuck Pagano says of the defense. "It's some really, really good stuff and we just need to keep trending in that direction.
"The schemes, the plans are really good. Guys are executing those plans. With success comes confidence; I think our guys are playing with a ton of confidence right now. You put all those things together, and again that success is a byproduct of all that stuff."
In last year's meeting in Houston, the Colts erased an 18-point second half deficit in moving their record to 6-2.
The win gave the Colts control of the AFC South, a division they would end up clinching a month later.
Heading into Thursday night, the calendar reads early October but the January implications riding on this contest are known inside both locker rooms.
"It's big because we're both trying to fight for first place," running back Trent Richardson says. "It's their first division home game, so it's going to be a big one for them too. We know how big it is for both us."
INTERESTING MATCHUPSTexans wide receivers versus the Colts secondary:Seven-time Pro Bowler Andre Johnson is the Texans leading receiver but it's 2013 first round pick DeAndre Hopkins that has the three receiving touchdowns between the two. That means another stiff test for Vontae Davis and Greg Toler. The Colts duo has been very solid in 2014 and the month of October filled with some of the game's best pass catchers continues on Thursday night.Colts offensive line versus J.J. Watt: Based off Watt's elite numbers, the Colts have done a solid job on him in the last three meetings. Watt only has one sack in those contests. However, Watt is still putting together a Defensive MVP like start to 2014, leading the NFL with 16 quarterback hits. Where the Texans decide to primarily line up Watt on Thursday will be interesting with the youth in the interior of the Colts offensive line.Quick Facts
-The Colts are the only team in the NFL with seven players that have 10-or-more catches.
-The Colts lead the NFL in time of possession (36:24), points per game (31.2) and passing yards per game (321.8).
-The Colts have won nine straight divisional games. That streak is five more games than any other team is currently on.
-The Texans lead the NFL with 12 turnovers forced, nine of which have occurred in their own red zone.
-Texans defensive end J.J. Watt leads the NFL with 16 quarterback hits.
-Texans running back Arian Foster is third in the NFL with 404 rushing yards, despite missing a game.NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on if Cory Redding has found the fountain of youth):
-"It's huge, and he has found the fountain of youth. Cory comes to work every day with a great attitude. To me, it's all spirit-driven. His energy and passion is off the charts. He's playing at a really high level right now. He's having a ton of fun out there and he knows from a career standpoint, you start getting up there like Reggie (Wayne) and some of these guys, you don't know how many games you have left and you're not guaranteed the next one. So he's taken full advantage of every single game that he's playing, every snap that he has out there, and certainly the rest of the guys are feeding off of his energy, his play, his emotion, all those things. He's just a phenomenal leader for us out there."Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on if with just two days to prepare do things have to be condensed somewhat):
-"Yeah, I think probably what most people do and what we try to do is make sure that we don't ankle-weight them, so to speak. Again, it's going to be tough enough to get them back from a physical standpoint, get them healthy, get them as fresh as you possibly can, but from a mental standpoint, you want to make it as easy as possible, but you can't be so vanilla that you don't have any bullets, so to speak, in the chamber. So you've still got to have some stuff that you may have not shown or whatever, but we've got to do our due diligence and make sure that these guys can play fast."
Colts Defensive End Cory Redding(on the challenges of the Texans offense):
-"Arian Foster's the key to making everything go in the offense. You have to stop him. Just like every week, you have to stop all their backs. (Ryan) Fitzpatrick, the quarterback, he's in the system and we know who he is. I've played him with the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans. He's the same guy. You just have to get around him, get your hands up and try to get him to the ground as much as possible, try to get him out of the pocket. He's a pretty good mover, pretty good scrambler. He wants to get in there and throw the ball. But as long as we continue to keep pressure up front, as well as guys covering in the back end, I think we'll be fine."
Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien(on if when he took the job he looked at the Colts as a hurdle in the AFC South):
-"Well I think the first thing that I did when I took the job was to really evaluate this roster here in Houston, but then I certainly looked at the division soon thereafter that and began to with our staff get ready for the division. Clearly Indianapolis, especially last year and in recent memory, Indianapolis is to me the team to beat in this division. We understand that. They're doing a good job, they've got a great quarterback and it's going to be a very big challenge for us. It's at home, which is good. It's in front of our home crowd and we're just looking forward to the game."Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien(on if he sees the Texans and Colts becoming a rivalry going forward):
-"I think anytime that you have two really good players (Andrew Luck and J.J. Watt) that play marquee positions, especially quarterback and defensive line as far as J.J., that's a good thing for the league. That's a good thing for Houston and Indianapolis. These two guys will be here in their respective cities for a long time. It'll make for a good rivalry. Again, we're in the first year here of our staff being here and we're trying to implement our systems. Our guys are doing a really good job of learning our systems and working hard. We just have to play more consistent. But at the end of the day, like I said before, we're looking forward to the challenge of Thursday night."Texans Defensive End J.J. Watt(on the problems the Colts present):
-"They're a good football team. Obviously Andrew Luck is a heck of a football player. They do a good job, have a few good receivers and the running backs can run the ball well behind that offensive line. I think they do a good job of playing within the system. Then obviously they have a quarterback who can do multiple things very well."