Indianapolis Colts (2-2) at Houston Texans (1-3)
Andrew Luck missed the first game of his career last week, a late scratch with a right shoulder injury. The injury was reportedly not severe, so many thought the Colts were just holding him out ahead of a short week on the road here in Houston on Thursday Night Football, but he’s inactive once again. It still doesn’t sound like it’s a serious injury for Luck and it sounds like that the Colts are just holding him out on a short week ahead of arguably the biggest game of the Colts’ season next week at home for New England (more on how that’s relevant to this game later), but no one outside of the organization has seen him practice since the injury so who knows.
Luck is not the Colts’ only major injury. Top defensive players cornerback Vontae Davis, safety Mike Adams, and defensive end Henry Anderson are all active, but none of the three practiced this week. On top of that, linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Bjoern Werner are also out, while replacement quarterback Matt Hasselbeck didn’t practice at all this week on a short week and was in the hospital as recently as Tuesday with an illness. Hasselbeck was decent against Jacksonville last week, but the Jaguars have one of the worst defenses in the league. The Texans have a better defense and Hasselbeck has to face them at less than 100%, on the road, on a short week. Luck to the now 40-year-old Hasselbeck was already one of the biggest starter to backup quarterback downgrades in the NFL so the Colts could have a very tough time moving the ball through the air tonight.
The Texans, meanwhile, are getting healthier. While marginal receivers Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington will miss this game, leaving them very thin at receiver behind DeAndre Hopkins, but both left tackle Duane Brown and running back Arian Foster, two much more important offensive players, are both in their 2nd game back and should both play better this week. The Texans also don’t really have any injuries after Shorts and Washington.
Even if Luck were healthy, I would have taken the Texans (though obviously not as 5 point favorites) for a number of reasons. The Colts still have a weak supporting cast, no matter who the quarterback is. Their offensive line, running game, and defense are all subpar. Even before you take injury situations into account, these two teams have also played comparably to each other this season, despite pre-season expectations, as the Colts rank 17th in rate of moving the chains differential and the Texans rank 15th.
The Colts, at full strength, are probably still the more talented team, but they’re not at full strength and they’re not the same team they were in 2013 and 2014, when they were head and shoulders above the rest of the division, going a combined 12-0. The Colts have won both of their divisional games this season, but didn’t cover the spread in either, after covering the spread in all 12 divisional games in 2013 and 2014, and could have easily lost both games, winning by a combined 5 points. In their other two games, they’ve gotten blown out by the Jets and Bills, perhaps solid teams, but not the NFL’s cream of the crop or anything. They definitely can’t afford to look past a capable Texans team here.
The Colts definitely could look past the Texans somewhat here, as they are in a bad spot. The Texans have a trip to Jacksonville on deck, while the Colts have to host the Patriots next week. The Colts are expected 5 point underdogs at home for New England. Teams are 66-111 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ point home underdogs, 35-76 ATS before being 4+ point home underdogs, and 19-50 ATS before being 6+ point home underdogs. That’s because when you have a game coming up like that it generally means one of two things. One, you’re about to host a very tough opponent, serving as a distraction. Two, you really aren’t that good of a football team. In this scenario, it’s more than former than the latter, but the Colts also aren’t that good, especially as banged up as they are.
There are a couple reasons I wouldn’t put money on the Texans, in addition to the Colts’ recent divisional dominance. I don’t think that matters too much now with the way the Colts have been playing and how banged up they are, but it’s still worth mentioning. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Colts are 18-5 ATS against sub .500 teams in week 4 or later since 2011, but, again, I don’t know how much that matters with the way the Colts have been playing and how banged up they are. I just really wish we were getting a little bit more line value with the Texans. I’d put money on them at 3 or so, but this line is 5, so I’ll stay away.
Houston Texans 20 Indianapolis Colts 13
Pick against the spread: Houston -5