The Indianapolis Colts dominated the AFC South for most of its first nine years. When they fell apart without an injured Peyton Manning, the Houston Texans finally won their first division title last season.
The Texans (11-2) haven't forgotten their years of being manhandled by the Colts. They would like nothing more than to clinch another division crown Sunday against their longtime nemesis.
"All of our goals are ahead of us," Houston linebacker Connor Barwin said. "But to do it here at home against the Colts would kind of be perfect."
Houston secured a playoff berth two weeks ago, but stumbled in a 42-14 loss to New England on Monday night. That loss, combined with the Colts (9-4) winning their third straight, left the open the possibility for Indianapolis to win the division with two games against Houston remaining.
The Colts would clinch a playoff spot with a victory Sunday and become just the second team in NFL history to win at least 10 games the year after losing 14 or more.
"The Colts used to own this division for many years, so it's time to go ahead and get that thing back," Indianapolis defensive end Cory Redding said.
The Texans, who have the AFC's best record despite Monday's loss, are eager to get back on the field after coming up very small in what many thought was a benchmark game in the AFC. None of them seems worried that Monday night's struggles will seep into this week.
"I have no doubt on how we will respond on Sunday. Period," Andre Johnson said tersely. "You guys can say what you want, think what you want, just watch us on Sunday and see what happens."
There's reason to believe Johnson, who leads the team with 1,209 yards receiving. A week after their only other loss this season, a 42-24 defeat by the Packers, the Texans responded with a resounding 43-13 win over the Ravens.
The loss to the Patriots left Houston with plenty to work on this week. The top priorities are improving an inconsistent running game and eliminating costly mistakes on defense.
There's plenty of disappointment about what happened Monday, but the Texans are comforted by still controlling their fate when it comes to getting a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
"We're still on top of the AFC," defensive end J.J. Watt said. "We can go clinch the division this weekend, which is a big goal of ours, and then we'll move on to the next goal."
A homecoming is ahead for Indianapolis rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, the top overall pick in this year's draft who grew up in Houston and whose father, Oliver, was a quarterback for the Oilers. He expects a group of friends and family at the game, but is much more worried about how he'll perform against Houston than how big his personal cheering section will be.
"It is a business trip and that's where our focus needs to be," he said.
Luck has led the Colts' remarkable turnaround with a solid season and needs 260 yards passing to break Cam Newton's NFL rookie record of 4,051 yards. Luck has had his share of rookie mistakes, throwing an AFC-high 18 interceptions. But he has a knack for making plays with the game on the line, leading the Colts to six wins on drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most by a rookie since 1970.
Interim coach Bruce Arians, in charge of the team with Chuck Pagano on an indefinite leave after being diagnosed with leukemia, has been impressed by Luck. But he's quick to point out that another key to their improvement has been the leadership of veterans such as Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne.
"All those guys, they have one losing season in their careers," Arians said. "They weren't used to it. It was an aberration to them. It's a credit to them to grab these young guys and mold them as fast as they have."
The Indianapolis offense has been hit hard by injuries, and the Colts placed running backs Donald Brown and Robert Hughes on injured reserve this week. There are questions on the offensive line with right tackle Winston Justice (biceps) and center Samson Satele (ankle) both missing practice this week because of injuries.
Arians said he is concerned about pass protection every week. The Colts can't be happy about the possibility of using a makeshift line against one of the most dominant defensive fronts in the NFL.
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt leads the AFC with and has the most sacks in a season in franchise history with 16 1/2. Whitney Mercilus has tied the team's rookie sacks mark with six despite starting just two games.
Luck is well aware of the challenge he'll face against Watt.
"He's a monster," Luck said. "He gets sacks. If he's not sacking the quarterback he's hitting the running back behind the line of scrimmage. If he's not doing that he's batting balls down, so he's definitely a premier player in this league."