Here are five things to watch when the Texans (10-4) face the Indianapolis Colts (1-13) on Thursday Night Football at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy. Kickoff is at 7:20 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on NFL Network.
1. Role reversal: The Texans have never won in Indianapolis, but it has been a season full of firsts. They have a franchise-record 10 victories, are 4-0 against the AFC South, have clinched their first-ever division title and are vying for a first-round bye in what will be their first trip to the playoffs.
The Colts, meanwhile, have the worst record in the NFL in their first season without Peyton Manning since 1997. Instead of competing for the No. 1 seed in the AFC like they normally are this time of year, they're competing for the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
The disparity between the 2011 Texans and Colts couldn't be much bigger. The Texans lead the NFL in yard differential, with 99.6 yards per game more than their opponents. The Colts have been outgained by 101.4 yards per game, which ranks dead last. Indy also ranks last in point differential (-13.1 per game) while Houston ranks fifth ( 7.6).
With a victory, the Texans would remain in competition for a bye week with the Baltimore Ravens (10-4) and New England Patriots (11-3). If the Texans win and out and either Baltimore or New England should lose a game, the Texans can do no worse than the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
How will the Texans handle it? Will they take care of business as expected and as a top playoff team should? Or will they have another disappointing effort coming off last week?
"The Colts can be whatever the Colts are going to be," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "We've got a job to do."
2. Running wild?: The Colts are almost as bad at stopping the run as the Texans are good at running the ball. Indy ranks 28th in rushing defense, allowing 138.7 yards per game. Houston ranks second in rushing offense with 151.8 yards per game.
This is the first time the Colts will face Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the same game. Tate was on injured reserve last season when Foster torched the Colts for 333 rushing yards (6.9 per carry) and four touchdowns in two games. Foster was sidelined by a hamstring injury in Week 1 this season when Tate ran for 116 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut.
Foster has six 100-yard games on the season. Tate has four. They've done it in the same game twice, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Thursday makes three.
3. Rebound game: Against the team he grew up rooting for, Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates gets a chance to rebound from the worst game of his young NFL career.
Yates, who was born in Indianapolis and lived there until he was 10, threw two interceptions last Sunday in the Texans' loss to Carolina. The fifth-round pick from North Carolina finally looked like a rookie after coolly leading the Texans to victories over Atlanta and Cincinnati in his two previous starts.
"I definitely made mistakes out there that shouldn't have happened, and I know that I'm better than what I showed out there on that field," Yates said. "I've got to be more patient out there. They got up early. They were testing us to check the ball down and take the long, hard road. I got a little impatient on a couple throws and tried to force things that weren't there. That's one of those things I got to learn from because Indy's going to do the exact same thing. They're a big zone team. They're going to make you go the long, hard way all the way down the field, so this is a good rebound game for me."
The Colts rank 24th in the league in passing defense (246.4 yards per game). Yates won't have Andre Johnson (hamstring) to throw to, and tight end Owen Daniels (hamstring) is questionable for the game. If Daniels plays, Yates should be able to move the ball downfield even without Johnson, as evidenced by his 300-yard performance at Cincinnati in Week 14.
4. Hello, Dan O: The Texans are going against a familiar face in Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky. He was the backup to Matt Schaub in Houston in 2009 and 2010 before getting released in the offseason.
"I have an unbelievable amount of respect for the organization there, the staff, especially Coach (Gary) Kubiak; I think the world of him," Orlovsky said earlier this week. "I have a lot of good, good, good friends, some guys that are still my best friends that I'll be best friends with for life… I think they all understand the competitor that I am and when Thursday night comes and we step on the field, just like they would say, we're going to go out and compete against each other."
The Colts have been much more competitive since Orlovsky took over under center in Week 13. His three starts produced a 31-24 loss to the Patriots, a 24-10 loss to the Ravens and a 27-13 victory over the Titans, Indy's first victory of the season.
Orlovsky has thrown for 571 yards with four touchdowns, two interceptions, a 63.7 completion percentage and 86.8 passer rating. He was 11-of-17 for 82 yards and a touchdown in the victory over Tennessee.
"I think it'll be fun to play against Dan because he was here two years and he's a good guy, so it'll be fun to get after him a little bit," Texans linebacker Connor Barwin said.
5. Dynamic duo: The Colts may be 1-13, but they still have perhaps the best defensive end combo in the league in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
"Those guys haven't turned it off, turned it down one bit," said Texans left tackle Duane Brown, who will be tasked with blocking Freeney on Thursday. "Watching film on them, they're still playing like there's still a lot to play for."
Both Pro Bowlers are having down seasons by their standards. Freeney has 7.5 sacks, while Mathis has 6.5. Freeney had double-digit sacks in seven of his first nine seasons. Mathis reached double digits in four of the last seven.
Still, the Texans know all too well how dangerous Mathis and Freeney can be. In 17 career games against the Texans, Freeney has 15.5 sacks. Mathis has 12.5 sacks in 16 games.
Freeney has been especially potent against the Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. He has 5.5 sacks against Houston in his last three games at Indy. Brown kept Freeney completely off the stat sheet in Week 1 at Reliant Stadium and will be looking to replicate that rare feat on Thursday night.