Texans-Colts Preview

The importance of Sunday's matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium isn't lost on the Indianapolis Colts or Houston Texans, who are tied atop the AFC South and looking to take control of the division race.

That far outweighs any of the accompanying details, like the fact that both teams will have backup quarterbacks starting with the chance a third-stringer gets forced into action.

Or the fact that Houston never has won in Indianapolis since entering the league in 2002.

Or that both clubs enter with sub-.500 records and riding two-game losing streaks.

The Colts again will be without Andrew Luck, who has missed a total of six games and the last four after suffering a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle. He returned to practice Wednesday but hasn't been cleared for full participation, leaving 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck as the next man up again.

Hasselbeck, though, is dealing with a rib injury, so Charlie Whitehurst has gotten some looks in practice. Coach Chuck Pagano hopes Hasselbeck, who won his first four starts in place of Luck, can practice this week and be ready to go Sunday.

''They understand the circumstances, we all do. Playing at home, division rival, division game, division on the line, I don't know how you cannot get up for this contest,'' Pagano said. ''These guys will show up, I promise you. They will prepare, they will work, and they will show up and they will play their butts off on Sunday.''

They better, considering they've lost the last two by a combined 70 points. Indianapolis (6-7) allowed 39 unanswered in a 45-10 loss at Pittsburgh before being routed 51-16 at Jacksonville last week.

Former Texan Andre Johnson caught both of Hasselbeck's touchdown passes in a 27-20 win over Houston in Week 5, when Brian Hoyer came on in relief and tossed two TDs in a losing cause.

Hoyer won't be in uniform for this meeting, though, after suffering his second concussion of the season in last week's 27-6 loss to New England. Instead, it will be T.J. Yates making his second start.

"He's been a quarterback in two wins for us this year, and he's played here before, so he's comfortable with his surroundings here and he's a pro," coach Bill O'Brien said. "He prepares really hard. He can do the things we need him to do to beat the Colts."

Yates also had to relieve an injured Hoyer in a 10-6 win over then-unbeaten Cincinnati on Nov. 16.

"We know how big of a game it's going to be for us and for them," Yates said. "Season's on the line for both of us. It's going to be a playoff-type atmosphere."

It's an atmosphere where the Texans franchise never has experienced victory, though. Houston (6-7) has lost all 13 meetings in Indianapolis, the last seven coming at Lucas Oil.

J.J. Watt, tied for second in the league with 13 1/2 sacks, said those past defeats mean nothing. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins hasn't even paid the slightest bit of attention to that drought.

"I'm not even sure what the history is with us playing there. I really don't care. This is a new year," Hopkins said. "This team doesn't really talk too much about history. There's a lot of new guys on this team."

Hopkins, who had a career-high 11 catches and season-best 169 yards in the first meeting with the Colts, is expecting to see plenty of double teams from a defense that ranks 29th overall, against the pass and in yards per completion (12.59).

Houston's 362 passing yards in Week 5 were the second-most allowed by Indianapolis this season.

The Texans' defense allowed T.Y. Hilton to finish with 88 yards, and they'll need to be wary of him again after Hilton had 132 last week against Jacksonville. The best game of his career came against the Texans, catching nine passes for 223 yards in a win last season.

Hilton's only other triple-digit effort this year was a 150-yard performance against New Orleans with Luck under center, but he said he hasn't had trouble adjusting to any quarterback changes.

"We have great confidence in Matt and Charlie if he has to go, so we feel good," Hilton said. "Things haven't been going our way lately and this is a must-win. This is (like) a playoff game and it's one that we have to have."

The Colts have won six straight meetings overall, although four of them have been decided by seven points or fewer.

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