The Indianapolis Colts have been beating up on the Houston Texans for the entirety of the Texans' existence. So what's one more time?
The Colts are 20-4 vs. the Texans, including a 12-0 record at home. If history is any indication, the Colts should prevail when the teams meet at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But in the NFL, there are no guarantees, and the Texans might respond to the coaching change that has Wade Phillips in charge this week.
Here are five keys for the Colts (8-5) to beat the Texans (2-11):
By not allowing a sack at Cincinnati, the Colts ended a streak of 25 consecutive games with quarterback Andrew Luck being sacked. Getting two shutouts in a row will be tough this week. The Texans bring the heat with J.J. Watt (9.5 sacks), Whitney Mercilus (six sacks) and Antonio Smith (five sacks). Despite their poor record, the Texans rank No.1 in the AFC in total defense and passing defense. So they're hardly a pushover. The Colts must keep Luck upright.
Smart decisions by Luck
Presuming Luck can avoid being sacked by Watt, Mercilus or Smith, he can't get too reckless in the passing game. Houston has a pair of cornerbacks who will pounce on mistakes. Johnathan Joseph leads the team with 14 passed defended and two interceptions. Kareem Jackson has yet to pick off a pass this season, but had four last season and is still a valuable corner. Lurking in the middle of the defense is linebacker Darryl Sharpton, who has 103 tackles.
Get off to a semi-fast start
There's no sense in getting hopes up for a true fast start for the Colts offense, but it would be helpful if they could at least put up a couple first-half scores, even if it's two field goals as they had against Tennessee two weeks ago. It's a tough task, considering the Texans' defense, but there's no question the Colts are overdue for a big start. It might help if Luck finds his new targets, Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill, early on. The sooner those two become consistent, the less opponents will double-team and game-plan to stop T.Y. Hilton.
Don't let Andre Johnson get loose
This is easier said than done, since the Texans' wide receiver remains one of the best in the game. He burned the Colts repeatedly early in the game at Houston in a Colts' comeback win. Unlike some receivers, Johnson appears to gain momentum the more games he plays. Since 2008, he's the most productive receiver in December, averaging 116.1 yards per game with 13 touchdowns in 20 December games.
Stay on the Case
Texans quarterback Case Keenum's best game since taking over for Matt Schaub came against the Colts, when he completed 20 of 34 passes for 350 yards, three touchdowns and a 123.4 passer rating. The Colts were able to get to him for only one sack. But that was Keenum's second game, so there wasn't a lot of film for the Colts to study. That's changed now. On the other hand, the Colts defense might be playing less effectively now than they were in the first game.
The pick: Colts 28, Texans 24