NFL playoffs: Picks, odds for Colts vs. Texans wild-card game

The Colts started the 2018 NFL regular season 1-5. The Texans started 0-3. They finished a combined 20-3 to qualify for the playoffs from the AFC South. Unfortunately, that means one talented, hot team from the division will be eliminated in the AFC wild-card round.

When the teams met in Week 4 in Indianapolis, the Colts went for the win late but lost in overtime, 37-34. When the teams played again in Week 14 in Houston, the Texans were the ones to fall by field goal in regulation, 24-21. That sets up an intriguing rubber match between two evenly matched teams with two premier quarterbacks, as former Houston prep star Andrew Luck returns home to duel Deshaun Watson. The Colts and Texans also have been committed to running the ball well to facilitate Luck and Watson to hit their respective downfield go-to guys, wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and DeAndre Hopkins.

MORE: SN's NFL playoff predictions

The Texans have plenty of marquee names on defense who got them here, while the Colts, with lesser names, have steadily improved on that side of the ball to emerge as a solid unit. All the way through money kickers Adam Vinatieri and Ka’imi Fairbairn, there is not much that separates these division rivals.

If the Colts survive and advance, they will travel to Kansas City for the divisional round. Should the Texans hold serve in the third meeting, they will get a rematch against the Patriots in New England.

Here's how Sporting News’ team of NFL experts sees the game playing out.

NFL playoff picks: Colts at Texans

    Date, time: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ETLocation: NGR Stadium, HoustonTV: ESPN/ABCOdds: Texans -2.5; total: 47.5

    Vinnie Iyer: No team is going into the playoffs hotter than Frank Reich’s team, while Bill O’Brien’s team has a little more experience. Ultimately, the Colts’ investment in their offensive line in front of Luck will pay off here as he benefits from better protection and balance than Watson will get.

    Luck will feel comfortable back home in Houston and will beat J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney by getting the ball out quickly and spreading it around well on intermediate routes. Watson will lock in with Hopkins, but the Colts’ defense will overachieve to help them advance in a close one.

    Pick: Colts, 27-23

    MORE: Picks for all four wild-card games

    David Steele: The Texans started 0-3, the Colts 1-5, and here they are facing off in the playoffs. The Colts were the better team in their two meetings, despite splitting them. The Texans are ahead of them in most every area, though, even quarterback, by the slightest margin, Watson over Luck. Everywhere the Colts are good, even very good, the Texans are just a bit better.

    Hopkins is nearly unguardable right now, and having him on the field should be just enough of an edge to get the Texans to the next round — someplace they’ve gotten to three times but never further.

    Pick: Texans, 31-26

    Each team's chances to reach Super Bowl

    Tadd Haislop: No matter what happens in this game, given the injury histories of both players, let’s just hope Watson vs. Luck becomes a thing in the AFC South for the next 10 or so years. The quarterbacks are the reasons these two teams are in the playoffs — hear that, Jacksonville? — despite strong, even surprising defensive play.

    Speaking of defense, they say it wins championsh

    ips. This is the wild-card round, not the Super Bowl, but close enough. Houston is stacked on that side of the ball; Indianapolis is getting there, but not yet. Give the home team the edge in that weird, early Saturday time slot.

    Pick: Texans, 20-17