Not only did their quarterbacks make remarkable comebacks, but the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans did too.
The AFC South rivals, who will square off in a first-round game in Houston on Saturday, are led by quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson, both of whom missed all or part of last season because of injuries.
The Colts’ Luck, who missed the 2017 season because of shoulder issues, threw 39 touchdown passes this season, second in the league. He was sacked just 18 times after averaging 31.2 in his first five seasons.
Meanwhile, his team made the playoffs despite a 1-5 start.
Second-year Texans star Watson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in November of his rookie year, helped Houston overcome an 0-3 start to win the division. The Texans are just the sixth team since 1980 to reach the postseason after losing its first three games.
Cool under pressure
This is the first playoff game for Watson since he threw for 420 yards in Clemson’s 35-31 victory over Alabama in the national championship game after the 2016 season. In that classic, he completed the winning touchdown pass with one second left.
“Some guys are born with it,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien told reporters this week, referring to Watson’s ability to perform under pressure.
“Some guys attain it over time, meaning they learn their system and go through experiences and get better. Some have a little of both. I think that there’s very few guys that can do it.”
Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton did a little chest thumping last month after catching nine passes for 199 yards in a 24-21 victory at Houston. He referred to NRG Stadium as his “second home.”
Naturally, Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph took umbrage to that remark, telling reporters: “Nah, man, that’s for clowns. That’s for TV.”
It looks as if the Colts will get center Ryan Kelly back for the game, giving them their preferred starting offensive line for the first time since Thanksgiving. Kelly had been sidelined by a neck injury that, because of pressure on his nerves, caused him to lose strength in his arms.
Kelly intends to wear a brace he referred to as a horse collar to stabilize his neck. “I’ve just got to trust that my strength is there and that I’ll be fine,” he told reporters this week.
Linebacker Darius Leonard, a second-round pick by the Colts out of South Carolina State, had a phenomenal rookie season, leading the NFL in tackles with 163 despite missing the New England game because of an injury. Amazingly, he was a Pro Bowl snub … yet was named to the harder-to-make All-Pro team, with left guard Quenton Nelson — the first rookie All-Pro teammates since 1965.
By the numbers
How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):
CATEGORY: INDY | HOUSTON
Points scored: 27.1 (5) | 25.1 (11)
Points allowed: 21.5 (10) | 19.8 (4)
Pass offense: 278.8 (6) | 236.3 (17)
Rush offense: 107.4 (20) | 126.3 (8)
Pass defense: 237.8 (16) | 260.4 (28)
Rush defense: 101.6 (8) | 82.7 (3)
Sacks: 38 (T19) | 43 (T11)
Penalty yards: 59.6 (19) | 49.2 (5)
Turnovers: +2 (T13) | +13 (2)
Sam Farmer’s pick
Luck has playoff experience and has rediscovered his game this season. The Colts defense is stingy up front and should be able to handle a Texans running game that has sputtered in recent weeks.
Should be close, but go with the visitors.