These two division rivals will meet for the third time this season, with the first two games each decided by three points and won by the road teams. Much like the similar results of these two games, Indianapolis and Houston also had similar paths to the playoffs, as both teams struggled early in the season and then found their strides to become two of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch.
The Colts have been led by a finally healthy Andrew Luck and a rebuilt offensive line that has given up the least amount of sacks in the NFL this season. Under first year coach Frank Reich, the Colts have embraced a new offensive scheme featuring more quick passes, which has been a key factor in Luck remaining upright and posting a 67% completion percentage with 39 TDs. Defensively, they are led by rookie LB Darius Leonard who led the NFL in solo tackles and was selected as an All-Pro.
The Texans started the season 0-3 before winning a wild game at Indianapolis in week 4, which propelled them to a nine game winning streak. Their high-flying offense is headlined by star quarterback Deshaun Watson and his favorite receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who recorded 11 TDs and zero drops. On the other side of the ball, J.J. Watt has come back from injury and had a remarkable season, leading a defense that ranks third in rushing yards against.
The key matchup in this game will be the Colts ability to keep Watson in the pocket and limit big plays to DeAndre Hopkins. If the Colts can get and early lead, they have shown the ability to move methodically down the field with long drives, which would keep Houston’s quick-strike offense off the field. Having said that, expect both offenses to be able to move the ball and the put up a high point total. With seemingly little separation between the two, the game could come down to whoever can limit turnovers and come up with a key red zone stop.
The pick: Colts 30 Texans 27
Having played just two weeks ago, the Ravens and Chargers should be relatively familiar with each other when they meet again on Sunday. In that Week 16 matchup, Baltimore was able to go keep the Chargers offense relatively stagnant and force Phillip Rivers into his worst performance of the season. This game also marked the biggest win for Lamar Jackson, who has won six out of his first seven starts in the NFL. Jackson’s exceptional running ability has rejuvenated the offense and given them a unique element that teams have not have able to adjust to thus far. While Jackson has shown flashes of brilliance, the Ravens have unquestionably been carried by their defense, which ranks in the top five in virtually all defensive categories and as Pro Bowl caliber players at every level.
On the other hand, the Chargers have been one of the best teams in the AFC all season despite their status as a Wild Card team. After beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 15, a subsequent loss to Baltimore one week later ended up proving to be the deciding factor in them barely missing out on the AFC West division crown. They have one of the best rosters in the NFL and are one of the most difficult teams to defend with veteran QB Phillip Rivers, physical receivers and a dynamic running back. Los Angeles also has some exceptional defensive players such as Joey Bosa and rookie Derwin James, both of which will be met with the challenge of containing Jackson's rushing attack.
The key matchup in this game will be the Chargers defense forcing Jackson into obvious passing situations, either by playing with a lead or forcing negative plays on first and second down. While Jackson has exceeded expectations, he has not shown the ability to win a game throwing from the pocket and picking apart a defense with his arm. If the Chargers can limit Jackson’s run ability, the former Heisman winner could be in for a long night against a talented defense that faced him just a few weeks ago.
The pick: Chargers 23 Ravens 17