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Thursday Night Football Preview: A Showdown for AFC South Supremacy

For the third week in a row, we have a divisional matchup on Thursday Night Football as the Indianapolis Colts travel to face the Houston Texans in an AFC South matchup -- which could be critical in deciding the division winner.

All teams are within two games of each other and based on our power rankings, this could be a close one -- we have the road Colts ranked 15th, and the home Texans slotted in 10th. We should have a good battle on our hands with these two 6-4 teams.

Let's dig in and find out who has the advantage.

Quarterback Breakdown

Perhaps the best part of this matchup is going to be the two signal-callers, as these are some of the game's hottest passers.

In terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, Deshaun Watson ranks among the league's elite with a mark of 0.23 (ninth). Filling in for Andrew Luck -- who abruptly retired prior to the season starting -- Jacoby Brissett has performed more than admirably, ranking 14th by the same metric (0.19).

In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in a positive NEP -- both remain top-15 passers, with Watson clocking in 11th (50.83%), and Brissett just a touch back at 15th (49.09%).

In looking at average intended air yards (the average air yards a passer throws on all attempts), Watson has been strong with a mark of 8.5, while Brissett falls back a bit at 7.2.

While neither of these quarterbacks is Lamar Jackson (and who is?), both are effectively using their legs to gain yardage, ranking in the top-eight in carries at the position.

With strong play expected under center by both teams, how do the running games compare?

Running Back Play

At first glance, comparing lead backs Marlon Mack and Carlos Hyde could seem to be a lopsided mismatch in Mack's favor, but peeking closely reveals both have been pretty darn good in 2019.

Thirty running backs have received 100 or more carries, and in terms of Rushing NEP per carry, both players clock inside the top-10 -- Mack leads the way at seventh (0.05), while Hyde is ninth at 0.03. In terms of Rushing Success Rate, both rank inside the top-five of the league -- Mack at fourth (46.35%), and Hyde one slot behind him (46.20%).

Unfortunately for Indianapolis, Mack fractured his hand and will be out of the contest this week -- likely turning ball-carrying duties over to Jonathan Williams. Williams gashed the Jacksonville Jaguars last week for 116 yards on 13 carries, but make no mistake -- the Jags have allowed an average of 175 rushing yards over their last three games, and rank 27th against the run, per numberFire.

With two solid rushing attacks coming at them, these defenses better be up to the task. Are either one ready?

Defensive Matchup

Both teams have been average defensively, so if either one can gain a decided edge, it could decide the matchup.

The Colts check-in slightly higher at 14th via our per-play metrics, while the Texans are just a tick below them at 16th. Indy has been strong against the pass at 13th, while the Texans, who are also missing star J.J. Watt, slide a bit back at 20th. Against the run, Houston ranks 15th, while the Colts are a bit worse at 18th.

In reviewing Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, both teams stink. Houston has gotten almost no pressure whatsoever, ranking 23rd (6.6%), while Indy has been marginally better at 20th (6.9%).

Game Projection

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