INDIANAPOLIS – Playoff berths are never clinched in the month of October.
But odds to play in the postseason can start to slowly diminish if things are not taken care of in the first half of an NFL season.
Such a scenario is what the Colts face in Week Six.
After bouncing back last week against the Bears, the Colts will take their act on the road to try and get back to .500 on the season.
With a win on Sunday in Houston, the Colts (2-3) would tie the Texans (3-2) for the AFC South lead, and secure the early tiebreaker over the division defending champs.
A loss though, and the Colts would fall two games behind the Texans, lose that early tiebreaker, and have some ground to make up on a schedule that is definitely back loaded.
Yeah, this one isn't your typical, ho-hum, Week Six matchup.
"Must win-game," T.Y. Hilton stated earlier in the week.
"We know what's on the table. They are the defending champs in the division, so we've got to go get the crown back. And it starts with this big game on the road."
Both the Colts and Texans come into this Sunday Night Football contest with some similarities regarding their top playmakers and key injuries.
The team's key weapons are two young Pro Bowl receivers (Houston's DeAndre Hopkins and Indianapolis' T.Y. Hilton).
Trying to slow those two down is made extra difficult this week with both teams dealing with several injuries in their respective defensive backfields.
How each team handles these situations will likely play a big factor in who wakes up Monday morning atop the AFC South.
"We understand the records of both teams," Andrew Luck said earlier this week. "That being said, it truly is the next game and it's a big one because it's a division one on the road.
"If you can go down to Houston and get a win against a really good team, defending (division) champs, that's a big deal. It's tough, it's really hard, that's a really good football team. We know we have our work cut out for us."
INTERESTING MATCHUPSHouston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins versus the Colts secondary:It's very possible the Colts will be down their No. 2 (Patrick Robinson) and No. 3 (Darius Butler) cornerbacks this weekend. That could force the Colts to have no choice but to use Vontae Davis shadowing DeAndre Hopkins a lot on Sunday night. The Texans want to get their Pro Bowl wide receiver more involved.
Colts offensive line versus the Texans defensive front: The Colts game-planned this week knowing that J.J. Watt will not have to be accounted for on Sunday. With Watt on the field for the first three weeks of 2016: Houston had 10 sacks. With Watt on injured reserve the past two games: Houston has 3 sacks. The Texans still have playmakers in the defensive front, but the loss of Watt has been noticeable.
- This marks the fourth straight primetime game the Colts have played in Houston. The three previous meetings came down to one-possession games.
- In eight career games against the Texans, T.Y. Hilton has 43 catches for 778 yards and six touchdowns.
- Since Adam Vinatieri last missed a field goal (Week Two of the 2015 season), NFL kickers have missed 183 field goals.
- The Texans have won six straight divisional games.
- Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney leads the NFL with eight tackles for loss this season.
- Houston has the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL.
NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on the Texans without J.J. Watt):
"He is a great, great player, but they have a lot of great players. They are fifth in the league in total defense. They sack the quarterback at a high rate, I think they have 13 (sacks). (Jadeveon) Clowney is playing at a level that is as good as any defensive lineman that we have seen right now in the National Football League. He is a game wrecker. (Whitney) Mercilus is a game wrecker. 75, big Vince (Wilfork) in the middle is un-blockable. (John) Simon, a guy that probably nobody has heard of, 51, on the outside is a heck of a player. The two inside backers, (Benardrick) McKinney and (Brian) Cushing do a great job. The backend does a great job, they are tied together and communicate well. Like I said, they are suffocating and very, very stingy in a lot of areas. They make it very, very difficult to move the football and chains and to matriculate the ball down the field. They miss him, anybody would miss J.J. Watt, but when one guy goes down it's next man up. All those guys have raised the bar and raised their level of play."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on Bill O'Brien's offense with new quarterback Brock Osweiler):
"Coach (Bill) O'Brien is running what he runs. Obviously there was great excitement and love for Brock. He is a talented guy. Again, he has a system, Billy does and they do a great job. They went out and acquired some speed on the outside, got a runner that can go and take it the distance on you if you don't set an edge. They surrounded him with enough talent and enough playmakers. They do what they do and they do it well."
Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck(on him and T.Y. Hilton having a duo shaping up to challenge Peyton Manning/Marvin Harrison, Peyton Manning/Reggie Wayne):
"That's what you work for, that and winning championships. Those are pretty prolific combinations right there and they are great ones to shoot for. That being said, we are not trying to replicate anything that those guys did. We both like to think that we are our own people in a sense. Playing with Reggie and hearing stories about Marv and also Peyton in this building, how much respect both of us and everybody on the offensive side of the ball has for what has happened here in this building is immense. Hopefully we can also forge our own path."
Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien(on the combination of Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton):
"They're playing at a very high level. How they've played in the past, they've played at a high level in the past, but they're playing great right now."
Texans Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins(on matching up with Vontae Davis in past games):
"It's been a great challenge. Some games he got the best of me and some games I feel like I got the best of him. But we definitely know each other well and I know his mindset, he always wants to go against me and I always want to go against him with no help. That's just how we are. It's always been very competitive. We might talk on the field but at the end of the day we're cool. There's nothing off the field that's going on. But it's always competitive. A lot of physicality out there when both of us are going at it."
Texans Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins(on if the close games with the Colts has made this more of a rivalry):
"Yes, it has for sure because, like you said, the games are close between both of us. It's mainly because of the competitiveness that's going on out there. One team might be better than another team on paper, but once we get out there, all that goes out the window because we know it's a division rivalry. Most of the time when we've been playing each other in the past years, it's been a very important game to excel into first place or to put one team above another team. Guys are fighting all the way to the fourth quarter every game."