Though it would be fitting for a kid named “Luck” to play for a team with a horseshoe on its helmet, the Colts are experiencing an unlikely late-season surge that could cost the team that had presumably locked up the first overall pick a clear shot at their franchise quarterback of the future.
Thanks to an unlikely come-from-behind win over the Texans, the Colts have moved to 2-13 on the season. If the Vikings lose to the Redskins and/or the Rams lose to the Steelers on Saturday, Week 17 would feature not only the resolution of multiple playoff spots and positioning, but also the final resolution of the “Suck for Luck” sweepstakes.
If the Colts lose to the Jaguars in Jacksonville on January 1, they’ll clinch the pick via the strength of schedule tiebreaker, which is the first measure used to determine draft position among non-playoff teams. But if the Colts continue their hot streak and beat the mediocre-at-best Jaguars, either the Rams or the Vikings would slide into the top position position, if either or both lose in Week 17.
And so the fate of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck won’t be decided for at least a week — unless both the Rams and Vikings win on Saturday. Even then, the question of whether Luck will make an Elway/Eli-style power play will move to the front burner, and likely stay there for weeks if not months, once it’s known where the first pick will go.
The Colts’ presumed stranglehold on the first overall pick evaporated via their ability to stay close to the Texans throughout Thursday night’s NFL Network season finale, even though it appeared the Texans would roll over Indy after a first-snap-from-scrimmage sack-fumble forced by linebacker Brian Cushing. One play later, running back Arian Foster gave Houston a 7-0 lead (with the extra point, of course).
Hampering the Texans was a pathetic 10-percent conversion rate on third down. The only time Houston turned a third down into a first down came late in the game, on a bouncing-ball pass that receiver Jacoby Jones snatched out of the air and carried past the sticks, extending deeper into Indy territory a drive that culminated in another Neil Rackers field goal, making the score 16-12.
But the Texans left the Colts with enough time to piece together a 12-play, 78-yard drive fueled by an uncanny ability of Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky to sense the pressure and step up in the pocket, a 34-yard pass from Orlovsky to receiver Reggie Wayne on third and seven from the Indy 46, a pair of penalties on Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, a pass interference call at the Houston one, and a one-yard touchdown pass from Orlovsky to Wayne.
The touchdown and the extra point gave the Colts a 19-16 lead, and with only 19 seconds remaining the Texans couldn’t mount a serious threat for a game-tying field goal.
The loss virtually ensures that the Texans will not earn a playoff bye, forcing them to host the No. 6 seed in the wild-card round. In fact, there’s a chance that the Texans could fall to No. 4 in the AFC, if Houston loses to Tennessee next week and the Broncos win their final two games. The resulting 10-6 tie wouldn’t be settled by the first four tiebreakers, pushing the issue to strength of victory then strength of schedule then all sorts of crazy stuff based on points scored and allowed, culminating in a 12th-step coin-toss.
Regardless, the suddenly slumping Texans will host a team like the Steelers or the Jets or maybe the Bengals on the weekend of January 7, making the first postseason game in franchise history a very challenging one. Based on the way the Texans played against the Panthers on Sunday and the Colts on Thursday night, a one-and-out postseason debut seems to be looming in Houston.
But at least they possibly have saved themselves from having to face Andrew Luck for the next 15 years.
UPDATE 12:21 a.m. 12/23/11: As a reader wisely points out in the comments, the Jaguars could avoid seeing Luck in the division as well by laying down for the Colts next Sunday.