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HOUSTON (AP) — Saturday’s wild-card game between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts is a matchup that seemed improbable early this
season after Houston dropped its first three games and the Colts limped to a 1-5
start.Instead of letting their tough starts lead to disappointing
years Jadeveon Clowney Jersey , these teams which both finished 4-12 last season turned things around to lead the AFC South and charge into the
postseason.Houston’s rebound began at the expense of the Colts (10-6) and it was
thanks in part to a controversial call by Indianapolis coach Frank Reich in
overtime. The game was tied 34-34 when, instead of punting on fourth-and-4 from
his 43-yard line and likely settling for a tie, Reich called for a short pass
from Andrew Luck to Chester Rogers. Luck’s pass fell incomplete, Houston got a
24-yard completion on the next play, and Ka’imi Fairbairn made a 37-yard field
goal as time expired to give the Texans (11-5) a 37-34 victory.“We knew that to
be able to come out on the winning end of that game was a big thing for us, but
that’s a long time ago,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien said. “The teams have
evolved over time, so it’s a new ballgame now.”The win was the first of nine
straight for Houston. The Texans didn’t lose again until a visit from the Colts
on Dec. 9, a 24-21 Indy victory. Houston then won two of its last three games,
capped by a 20-3 victory over the Jaguars on Sunday to clinch the division — and
become the sixth team since 1980 and first since 1998 to make the playoffs after
a 0-3 start.The Colts’ loss to Houston in Week 4 was the second of four straight
that dropped them to 1-5. Indianapolis then won its next five and nine of its
last 10 to make its first playoff appearance since a 2014 AFC championship game
loss at New England. Yes, the “Deflategate” game.The Colts are the third team in
NFL history to reach the postseason after losing five of the first six
games.These teams have more in common than their difficult starts. They’re both
led by a player making a comeback after an injury.Luck returned after missing
the 2017 season with a shoulder injury to throw for 4,593 yards and rank second
in the NFL with 39 touchdown passes. His best games this season have come
against Houston, piling up 863 yards passing with six touchdowns.Trying to slow
him down on Saturday will be Houston’s comeback star J.J. Watt, who played all
16 games after starting just eight games combined in the previous two years
because of back surgeries and a broken leg. Watt led the AFC with 16 sacks, had
25 quarterback hits, 18 tackles for losses and forced a career-high seven
fumbles, which tied for most in the NFL.Watt said Luck has been getting rid of
the ball quicker this season, which makes his job as a pass rusher much more
difficult.“You try and do different things, but at the end of the day Johnathan Joseph Jersey , you try and get there, and if you can get your hands up, you get your hands up,” he said. “You just try and get there. You
can’t really let it affect you, and you hope maybe he holds it for an extra
second.”Some things to know about Houston’s game against Indianapolis:HILTON’S
INSome of T.Y. Hilton’s most memorable moments have come against the Texans —
especially when he visits Houston.The Colts’ top receiver has caught 41 passes
for 933 yards with seven TDs in seven games at NRG Stadium, and in the last two
trips to Houston Hilton has 14 receptions for 374 yards and two TDs. So even
though he’s been hobbled by a bad ankle, which he initially injured at Houston
on Dec. 9, Hilton insists he’ll be fine Sunday.“That’s probably why it’s
starting to feel better,” Hilton joked earlier this week when asked about
playing in Houston for the second time in a month.DESHAUN’S DEBUTHouston
quarterback Deshaun Watson will make his playoff debut in his second year in the
NFL. Don’t expect the 12th overall pick in the 2017 draft to be daunted by the
challenge after he played plenty of huge games at Clemson, highlighted by
leading his team to the national title game twice. The Tigers lost to Alabama
when Watson was a sophomore before he helped Clemson beat Alabama 35-31 for the
2016 national championship.“It’s just another opportunity for myself and this
whole team to be able to show what we’ve got and put in the work,” Watson said.
“I’ve played in a lot of big games before in college and stuff, but you can’t
really pit college playoffs with the NFL. This is the hardest business,
top-notch. It’s a whole new season, a whole new speed of game. So it’s going to
be new for me (and) it’s going to be a lot of fun.”TURNAROUND TIMEIndy didn’t
just rebound from a 1-5 start to make the playoffs. It rewrote the book.While
the oft-criticized offensive line allowed a league-low 18 sacks after giving up
a league-high 56 in 2017, the biggest change came on defense, where the Colts
were ranked No. 11. They had the league’s leading tackler, 26 takeaways, allowed
only 16.4 points over the final eight games, and were one of three teams that
didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher all season.The Colts know it will take more of
the same to advance.“The last time we did a good job Whitney Mercilus Jersey , that was great for us, but this is a new challenge this week,” Reich said when asked about defending Pro Bowl receiver
DeAndre Hopkins. “I’m sure they are going to try to get him going.” It’s been
awhile since the NFL flexed a game to Sunday night. The Bengals vs. Chiefs is a
worthy choice.No games were moved from day to night last season, except for the
final weekend, when all games are scheduled for the afternoon until the league
and NBC figure out what is most attractive for prime time. In 2016, there were
three flexed games, including Week 17. Not counting that, the last flex was Bucs
at Cowboys on Dec. 18, 2016.So switching a pair of first-place teams made sense:
Cincinnati (4-2) is at Kansas City (5-1).Some of the juicy plot lines involve
offense, hardly a surprise in this year of points, points and more points.
Kansas City has the league’s lowest-ranked defense and the Bengals rank 29th.
Even worse, both are dealing with a slew of injuries on that side of the ball.So
Patrick Mahomes throwing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt could
fill the screen. So might Andy Dalton connecting with A.J. Green and Tyler
Boyd.“Any time you want to be one of the great ones on the defense or you want
your defense to have a statement-type game, you have to do it against the best
offenses in the league,” Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “And right
now, they’re putting up those points like they’re one of the best offenses in
the league. So you’ve got to go out there and put it on ’em.”There are some
caveats to this matchup, however.Although the Bengals have won four straight in
the series dating to Oct. 14, 2007, they are 3-15 on Sunday nights, losing eight
straight. The Chiefs are 7-3 in games on Sunday nights.The weekend began with
Denver’s 45-10 victory at Arizona on Thursday nightEmmanuel Sanders threw and
caught touchdown passes Justin Reid Jersey , Denver returned two interceptions for first-quarter touchdowns and the Broncos snapped a four-game losing streak.Todd Davis returned
rookie Josh Rosen’s deflected pass for a touchdown on the second play of the
game and Chris Harris Jr. took another back 53 yards for a score with 2:02 left
in the quarter as the Broncos (3-4) opened a 21-3 lead. Rosen threw three
interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice on a rough night that began badly
for him and never got better. The Cardinals (1-6), down 35-3 at the half, fell
to 0-4 at home for the first time since 1979.Off this week are Seattle (3-3),
Green Bay (3-2-1), Oakland (1-5) and Pittsburgh (3-2-1).New England (4-2) at
Chicago (3-2)Seems like every week, the Patriots’ opponent is battered by
injuries to key players. No one is more key in Chicago than edge rusher Khalil
Mack, who is battling an ankle problem.Just what Tom Brady needs against one of
the five teams he’s never lost to. Brady is 4-0 against the Bears; the others
are Atlanta (5-0), Dallas (4-0), Minnesota (4-0) and Tampa Bay (4-0).While the
Bears should be able to move the ball on New England, they’ll likely need lots
of points for a chance in this one.New Orleans (4-1) at Baltimore (4-2)Just like
Patriots-Bears, this is one terrific offense against defense matchup. New
Orleans ranks third in total offense and Baltimore is first on defense.Led by
Drew Brees, who set the yards passing career mark in a rout of the Redskins
before their bye the Saints have won four in a row. Nobody is more balanced with
the ball now that RB Mark Ingram is back from suspension to team with dynamic
Alvin Kamara. Brees, who is 0-4 vs. the Ravens, this year has a 78 percent
completion rate for 1,658 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.The
Ravens had 11 sacks last week against Tennessee and a league-most 26 overall.
They are allowing an NFL-low 12.8 points per game and the fewest yards per game
(270.8). Baltimore has four of the NFL’s past 14 shutouts since the start of the
2017 season.Carolina (3-2) at Philadelphia (3-3)An intriguing matchup of a solid
running team in Carolina, led by Christian McCaffrey and QB Cam Newton, facing
the second-stingiest rushing defense in a place where the Eagles are 17-4 under
Doug Pederson.As for the air game, which seemingly everyone needs to succeed
these days, Carolina is far too inconsistent.Meanwhile Martinas Rankin Jersey , Carson Wentz has thrown at least one TD in his past 19 games played, the longest streak in franchise history and second-longest
active streak behind Andrew Luck (28). Wentz has thrown 133 consecutive passes
without a pick. His longest streak is 135 passes.Tennessee (3-3) vs. Los Angeles
Chargers (4-2) at LondonThe Titans were humiliated at home by Baltimore and
should welcome the long trip overseas. Then again, they have lost 10 of the past
11 to the Chargers and bring a sputtering offense into Wembley.Although
Tennessee has a solid D, it faces an in-synch offense. The Chargers are 13-5
since starting last season 0-4 and QB Philip Rivers leads the AFC and ranks
second in the NFL with a 115.1 passer rating. He has 13 TD passes and four
interceptions in seven games vs. the Titans.Houston (3-3) at Jacksonville
(3-3)The other AFC South leaders.After beginning the season with three defeats,
the Texans have turned it around, albeit all their wins have been tight affairs,
two in overtime.Defensive end J.J. Watt , perhaps the NFL’s best player when
healthy, is back in form after missing most of the 2016 and ’17 seasons with
injuries. Watt has seven sacks and three forced fumbles in the past four
games.The Jaguars have a solid defense, too, particularly against the pass,
where they ranked first in yards surrendered. But Jacksonville was outscored
70-21 in consecutive road losses, forcing coach Doug Marrone to return to
training camp practices this week to emphasize fundamental football.Dallas (3-3)
at Washington (3-2)Among pro sports’ most intense rivalries, this will be a
physical and possibly low-scoring affair given the strength of both defenses and
imbalance of the offenses.Dallas, winless on the road, will try to run with
Ezekiel Elliott, second in rushing yards with 586 and third in yards from
scrimmage with 752. Washington will counter with Adrian Peterson, who averaged
108.5 yards rushing in the past two home games.Minnesota (3-2-1) at New York
Jets (3-3)The Vikings have never won at the Jets, going 0-5. To break that
slump Jordan Akins Jersey , the main weapon could be WR Adam Thielen. He had 11 catches for 123 yards last week, joining Houston’s Charley Hennigan (1961) as
the only players in NFL history with 100 or more yards in each of his team’s
first six games to begin a season. Thielen leads the NFL with 58 catches, the
most by a player in the first six games in league history, and 712 yards
receiving.Guess what: New York’s secondary is banged-up and porous.The Jets are
seeking their first three-game winning streak since Weeks 3-5 of 2017.Los
Angeles Rams (6-0) at San Francisco (1-5)Keeping the NFL’s only perfect record
shouldn’t be too challenging for LA, which has the most dangerous offense
around. RB Todd Gurley ran for a career-high 208 yards and two TDs last week.
The Rams are averaging 32.7 points per game despite scoring TDs on only 56.7
percent of red-zone trips. Los Angeles also leads the NFL with 7.64 yards per
play on first down.San Francisco blew a game at Green Bay last week and Niners
QB C.J. Beathard is tied for the NFL worst with seven turnovers in the past
three weeks since Jimmy Garoppolo tore up his knee. The Niners have an NFL-worst
minus-11 turnover margin.New York Giants (1-5) at Atlanta (2-4), Monday
nightMore injuries plagued the Falcons, who placed top running back Devonta
Freeman on IR. No team has been more damaged by injuries in 2018, most of them
coming on defense.That means Atlanta needs shootouts to have a chance most
weeks, and QB Matt Ryan leads the NFL with 1,432 yards passing and a 128.2
rating since Week 3.He is tied for first with 12 TD passes in that span.New
York’s D is vulnerable and the offense is enigmatic despite the presence of
sensational rookie RB Saquon Barkley, and firebrand wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
The O-line should be dubbed the “Awful-Line.”Detroit (2-3) at Miami (4-2)The
Lions are feeling upbeat following a victory over Green Bay and a week off, but
that special feeling could turn sour because of their special teams.Lions
coverage units rank last on punts and sixth worst on kickoffs. The Dolphins rank
second in kickoff return average and third in punt return average.Miami is no
powerhouse, though. The Dolphins are tied for the AFC East lead even though
they’ve been outgained by 398 yards.Cleveland (2-3-1) at Tampa Bay (2-3)The Dawg
Pound was silenced in Cleveland when the Chargers pounded the Browns last week.
Tampa will be hitting the airwaves, trying to find mismatches for WRs DeSean
Jackson and Mike Evans. It won’t hurt the Bucs that Browns Pro Bowl MLB Joe
Schobert is out with a hamstring injury. This will be his first game missed — at
any level — due to injury.The Browns do lead the NFL with 16 takeaways, three
more than all last season. Tampa has 11 giveaways.Buffalo (2-4) at Indianapolis
(1-5)Remember Derek Anderson, most lately the backup to Newton in Carolina. He
has surfaced as the new starter in Buffalo with rookie Josh Allen hurting and
Nathan Peterman an interception machine.On the positive side, the Bills‘ defense
is tied for the league lead with seven fumble recoveries.The Colts will try for
the fifth time to win game No. 300 since moving to Indy in 1984. And placekicker
Adam Vinatieri needs 10 points to break Morten Andersen’s scoring record (2,544
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