Competition: NFL Wild Card Round Date: Saturday 5th January Venue: NRG Stadium Kick-Off: 21:35 GMT
After a gruelling regular season, the NFL playoffs commence this weekend and the first clash is between the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts; two sides from the AFC South that shows how much the division has improved in recent years.
For the second season in a row, the AFC South will have two teams in the playoffs and, just to shake things up even more, neither the Titans nor the Colts advanced to the post-season last term – showing significant improvements.
Both sides started the season in poor fashion, with the Texans losing their opening three and the Colts starting with a 1-5 record, and the deciding factor in Houston hosting the game was their victory in week 4 – as there was not anything else to separate the sides.
We’ve taken a look into the game below to identify the key talking points ahead of the clash.
We never quit.
We never looked back.
We just believed.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 31, 2018
Colts enter on a high
The Indianapolis Colts may perhaps be the more confident side heading into this week’s clash following their dramatic victory over the Tennessee Titans last weekend, where a defeat would have seen the Colts eliminated and put the Titans through in their place.
Because of that, Indianapolis were provided with the opportunity to build some consistency in a playoff scenario earlier than some of their post-season rivals and that could provide an advantage, especially in a tie where things are very finely balanced.
Nearly identical records
As mentioned, there was not too much to separate the two AFC South sides in the regular season. Houston had the better points differential, +86 compared to +89, but both teams went 6-2 at home, 4-2 in the division, 7-2 indoors and 3-2 on grass fields.
Because the two sides are so similar, it is a very intriguing battle and perhaps the most difficult to predict out of all the Wild Card games taking place this weekend. However, the Texans will be hoping to utilise their home field advantage.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) January 3, 2019
Colts improved O-Line
In previous years, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had to become accustomed with having opposition players in his face after comfortably finding their way through an offensive line that was full of holes but that was not the case during 2018’s regular season.
Data from Pro Football Focus shows that Luck faced a 29.5% pressure rate, the sixth-lowest in the NFL, is evidence of the improvements from the players protecting the 29-year-old but Luck, now in his sixth season, also deserves credit from improving the speed of his plays.
Deshaun Watson & DeAndre Hopkins
The Colts defence has also improved this year but the Texans will look to offensive duo Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, who will certainly put Indianapolis under pressure. However, the majority of those improvements have come defending the run – and their passing defence has often been caught out.
Hopkins, catching a career-high 115 passes for a career-high 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns, has formed a formidable partnership with Watson, who has established himself as a fine quarterback in his second year in the NFL.