Thursday Night Football:
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
Preview and Prediction

 

The Colts are coming off a 20-13 victory over the Ravens and will be looking to win their fourth straight game as they travel to Houston in a match with the Texans for first place in the AFC South. Houston is 2-0 at home but lost 20-17 in overtime at Dallas in week five.

Thursday Night Football
Indianapolis Colts (3-2) at Houston Texans (3-2)
8:25 pm ET, October 9, 2014
NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Airs on CBS and NFL Network
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Colts favored by 3

 

Houston Defense versus Indianapolis Offense

Andrew Luck leads the NFL in passing yards (323 per game), and the Colts are tied with Philly with an NFL-best 31.2 points per game. With seven receptions for 77 yards against Baltimore, WR Reggie Wayne moved into ninth place for most career receiving yards all time (13,950) – and needs just 55 more yards to pass James Lofton for the eighth spot on the all-time list. While their running game (Ahmad Bradshaw, 5.0 yards per carry; Trent Richardson 3.4 yards per carry) is average, that doesn’t matter when your offense has Luck, Wayne (77 yards per game), T.Y. Hilton (76 yards per game) and TE Dwayne Allen (15 receptions on 20 targets, 13.6 yards per reception, four touchdowns).

Houston leads the NFL with twelve takeaways, and is led by MVP candidate J.J. Watt. The defensive lineman has an NFL-best 16 quarterback hits, three passes defensed, two sacks and a highlight reel pick-six after just five games. Indy tackle Gosder Cherilus will surely have help blocking Watt, but that could open up an already thin interior offensive line for the Colts. LB Brian Cushing has 45 tackles, and safeties D.J. Swearinger and Kendrick Lewis are tied with an NFL-best three forced fumbles.

Colts Defense versus Texans Offense

Arian Foster is healthy again, and has topped 100 yards rushing in all but one game this season; he ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards despite only playing in four games. The Indy defense ranks 25th against the run, allowing 4.6 yards per carry. The Colts D wasn’t that great to begin with, and they miss players like Arthur Jones, Robert Mathis, Pat Angerer and LaRon Landry. Foster being able to run the ball will mean that the Texans don’t have to count on Ryan Fitzpatrick to match Andrew Luck score for score in a shootout – an unattainable proposition.

Trends, Special Teams and Intangibles

Both teams are 3-2 straight up and 4-1 against the spread this season. Indy is 14-3 against the spread in their last 17 division games, and have covered in eight of their last ten games overall. Despite their two-win 2013 season, the Texans have now covered in five of their last six games. If it comes down to a game-winning kick, is there anybody other than Adam Vinatieri you want booting the ball? It seems hard to believe that number four has now spent almost as much time with the Colts (he’s now in his ninth season there) as he did with the Patriots (ten seasons).

Injuries

Indy’s offensive line was not stellar to begin with, and it has been riddled with injuries – and that plays right into Houston’s strength, J.J. Watt and the Texans defensive front seven. Starting LG Jake Mewhort is expected to miss his second straight game with an ankle injury, and now starting RG Hugh Thornton may miss this game with a bad back. A.Q. Shipley started the season at center, and may need to come back off the bench to play guard. Jonotthan Harrison did not play well at center against Baltimore, but at this point that may be the least of the Colts problems with their offensive line. The problem is that if Indy commits too much help to the interior line to stop Ryan Pickett, that leaves that much more of an opportunity for J.J. Watt, Jared Crick and Brooks Reed to wreak havoc from the edge.

While Houston’s injury report is much longer, it is primarily filled with players who will be on the field Thursday; Indy on the other hand has more players of significance that will miss this game.

Indianapolis Colts
CB Darius Butler (ankle) – Out
DT Arthur Jones (ankle) – Out
T/G Jack Mewhort (ankle) – Out
OG Hugh Thornton (back) – Out
ILB Jerrell Freeman (hamstring) – Questionable
OLB Bjoern Werner (ankle) – Probable

Houston Texans
OLB Jadeveon Clowney (knee) – Out
CB Darryl Morris (ankle) – Out
WR Andre Johnson (ankle) – Questionable
RB Alfred Blue (knee) – Probable
CB A.J. Bouye (groin) – Probable
OG Brandon Brooks (ankle) – Probable
ILB Brian Cushing (knee) – Probable
ILB Akeem Dent (shoulder) – Probable
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (calf) – Probable
RB Arian Foster (hamstring) – Probable
DE Tim Jamison (groin) – Probable
WR Damaris Johnson (foot) – Probable
OG Ben Jones (knee) – Probable
CB Johnathan Joseph (knee) – Probable
P Shane Lechler (hip) – Probable
OT Derek Newton (ankle) – Probable
NT Ryan Pickett (knee) – Probable
S Eddie Pleasant (ankle) – Probable
S D.J. Swearinger (elbow) – Probable
ILB Jeff Tarpinian (thigh) – Probable
DE J.J. Watt (thigh) – Probable

Prediction

I think the problems with Indy’s interior offensive line will prove to be too much the Colts offense, regardless of how potent they may have appeared against Jacksonville and Tennessee. Houston (22nd in yards, 23rd in points) may be below average offensively, but they should be able to move the ball effectively and score just enough to pull off a mild upset.

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Pick • Texans 27, Colts 21
Texans +3
over 46½

 

College Football

Brigham Young at Central Florida (-2½, one unit)
BYU lost QB Taysom Hill last week due to a broken leg, and lost at home to Utah State by 15 points. UCF’s offense hasn’t shown much compared to last season when Blake Bortles was the quarterback, but they should still be able get a win at home.

Washington State at Stanford (-17, one unit)
The Cardinal demolished the Cougars 55-17 last year in Washington; look for their defense to force multiple turnovers to set up easy scores and another blowout win

Texas (+17, one unit) at Oklahoma (under 45½, one unit)
The Sooners, who lost to TCU last week, may be a bit overrated. Oklahoma will win, but the Longhorn defense (29th in the nation) will do enough to keep this fairly close.

Michigan State at Purdue (+22, one unit)
For whatever reason, the Boilermakers tend to play some of their best ball against the Spartans; they lost by just 14-0 last year and 35-31 in 2010. Michigan State is by far the better team, but look for Purdue to keep it within three touchdowns.

UMass (+3, one unit) at Kent State
Something has to give in this clash of futility between two winless teams. The Minutemen at least have a pretty good passing game, whereas the Golden Flashes stink at everything. UMass gets off the schnide and scores a rare victory Saturday.

Florida State (-23½, one unit) at Syracuse
The Orange have had some success defensively forcing turnovers, but the Noles are too well coached to count on that happening. Syracuse’s offensive line is a mess, which means no running game, and quarterback pressures that will lead to fumbles and interceptions. Even though it’s a huge spread to cover on the road, FSU should be able to do it with ease.

Illinois (+27½, three units) at Wisconsin
The Badgers are the superior team and playing at home, but despite the Illini’s porous defense, they have a good enough passing game to keep this within four touchdowns.

Boston College at North Carolina State (-2½, one unit)
Both team are coming off bad games, but the Wolfpack are playing at home.

West Virginia at Texas Tech (+6½, two units)
Both teams are not doing a good job of securing the ball (they both have a minus eight turnover differential), so again I will lean to the home team, with crowd noise being a factor.

Oklahoma State at Kansas (+20½, two units)
While the Cowboys are the vastly superior team, that just seems like too many points for them to cover on the road.

Texas Christian at Baylor (over 66½, two units)
Baylor should beat TCU, but I’m a lot more confident that the final score will end up being something like 77-67 than the Bears covering by seven points.

Auburn at Mississippi State (under 63½, two units)
If I had to make a choice I would take the home Bulldogs in Starkville plus 2½ points, but I’ll lay off that proposition; the teams are too close to wager anything. On the other hand I do like both defenses enough to go under, in what could be about a 27-24 game.

Alabama at Arkansas (+9½, one unit)
Just because the Crimson Tide has done very well in recent seasons, that doesn’t mean that will happen every year – as we saw last week. If the line had creeped up over ten points I would feel better, but even so 9½ on the road is too much to go with Bama.

Louisiana State (-1, three units) at Florida
LSU ranks 14th in the country in points allowed. The aura of an opponent having to come to The Swamp to the Gators is a distant memory.

Oregon (-1½, two units) at UCLA
The Ducks are averaging 43.3 points per game. Look for them to get back on track in a big way after their loss to Arizona.

Southern Cal at Arizona (+1½, two units)
The Wildcats are undefeated and are currently the only ranked Pac-12 team. I really don’t understand why USC is favored here.

Washington (+3½, two units) at California
The Huskies have lost only one game, and that was by just seven points to #16 Stanford. Cal is overrated; their defense is allowing over 40 points per game. Washington should be the favorite, not the underdog.

Georgia at Missouri (+3, one unit)
I’m not really all that impressed with the Bulldogs’ offense, and RB Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely.

Louisville at Clemson (-9, one unit)
Clemson crushed NC State 41-0 last week. While I don’t expect them to beat Louisville by the same score, they should be able to beat the Cardinals by double digits with no problem.

North Carolina at Notre Dame (-16½, one unit)
Bounce back game for the Tar Heels? Their offense (27th, 37.2 points per game) says yes, but their defense (127th, 43.3 points per game) says no in this road tilt.

Mississippi (+3, one unit) at Texas A&M
The Rebels defense is very good; they have allowed just one passing touchdown in five games, and opponents are completing just 53% of their passes against them.

 

 

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