NFL Week 18 picks, predictions: Colts vs. Texans with AFC playoff berth on the line

Who's going to take all the marbles?

The Indianapolis Colts host the Houston Texans in NFL Week 18 action, and the winner makes the AFC playoffs while the loser's season ends. Both teams are 9-7 and tied with Jacksonville Jaguars atop the AFC South.

A key to this game: Can the Colts get to Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud? In the second half of the season, Indianapolis wins when sacking opposing quarterbacks at least twice but loses when the QB has time to operate. Also, Stroud is far less effective on the run as opposed to passing from the pocket.

Opinions on this game vary.

Who is favored to win, Colts or Texans?

via BetMGM

Favorite: Texans by 1 point (Colts are 9-7 against the spread, but they failed to cover in beating the Raiders in Week 17; the Texans are 8-9 ATS)

Over/under: 47.5 total points (11 Colts games have gone over, 5 under. Last week's game against the Raiders went over on Las Vegas' last-minute touchdown; 6 Texans games have gone over and 11 under)

Moneyline: Texans -120, Colts +100

ESPN's matchup predictor gives the Colts a 51.6% chance of winning.

NFL Week 18 picks, predictions: Colts vs. Texans for an AFC playoff berth

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News, Texans 23-20: The Texans have C.J. Stroud back at QB to fire up their passing game again and also will be able to run well in this matchup. Gardner Minshew has been a game long-term backup fill-in all season, but he tends to be on a roller coaster with his efficiency and it's due to go down vs. DeMeco Ryans' scheming defense, which can start well by containing Jonathan Taylor.

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports, Texans 31-26: The winner of this game will be in the playoffs and could win the AFC South if Jacksonville loses to the Titans. The Texans are a different team with C.J. Stroud, who played well last week after missing two games. I think he plays a good game here and the Texans make the playoffs.

Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Colts 24-21: It’s very simple for each team: Win and it’s a possible division title or wild card spot. Lose and it’s go home. The Colts won the earlier meeting in Houston and have won their past three home games. The Texans got C.J. Stroud back just in time.

Neil Greenberg, Washington Post, goes with the Colts: On paper, Houston looks like the better team. The Texans’ net efficiency ranks 12th after adjusting for strength of schedule, per analyst Aaron Schatz’s defense-adjusted value over average, while Indianapolis is 19th. The actual gap between them (7%), based on historical data, suggests the Colts should be a slight favorite at home.

Indianapolis should also have an edge in the trenches, especially when facing quarterback C.J. Stroud and Houston’s passing attack. The Colts’ pass rush ranks ninth, per Pro Football Focus, while the Texans’ offensive line ranks 19th in pass blocking. Stroud performs worse under pressure, as do most passers — but his drop in production is severe. His passer rating declines from 110.3 when operating in a clean pocket to 71.9 when facing pressure, which corresponds to a decline from the sixth-best passer out of 24 qualified quarterbacks to the fifth-worst, per PFF grades.

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Brian Blewis, Pro Football Network, goes with the Texans: By point differential and DVOA, the Texans have been a far better team than the Colts this season. Indianapolis has been overachieving all season long, but I think that comes to an end, even at home, in this Week 18 matchup.

The only concern here in taking the Texans is they’re a much worse team on the road than at home with C.J. Stroud under center — 2-4 compared to 6-2 in Houston — but that’s not scaring me off enough from taking the better team.

Albert Bainbridge IV, Bergen Record, takes the Texans: With Stroud back under center, I believe Houston takes advantage of a Colts defense that’s surrendered the sixth-most points per game (24.5 PPG) this season and has allowed 28 or more points in three of their last five.

Jim Derry,, Colts 26-24: There might not be a more cool story in the NFL this season than the Houston Texans, who have proved a whole lot of people wrong that they couldn’t turn things around right away with CJ Stroud and DeMeco Ryans.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: NFL Week 18 picks: Colts vs. Texans with AFC playoff berth at stake