NFL Upset Watch: Week 17

Can Andrew Luck lead the Indianapolis Colts to a win over the Houston Texans? Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Upset Watch appears every Thursday this season for ESPN Insider, as Football Outsiders uses a proprietary formula to forecast the expected point spread of each game based on current DVOA ratings (explained here) and, early in the season, our DVOA projections. Each week, we highlight the most likely upset in a game with a line of more than three points, plus an additional game in which a significant underdog has a strong chance to cover.

Upset Watch: Indianapolis (plus-6.5) vs. Houston

The Houston Texans may still have the best record in the AFC, but it hasn't been smooth sailing for them over the past month and a half. They started out 8-1, with mostly convincing victories except for their one loss to the Green Bay Packers. But their 4-2 record since then masks how much they are struggling, as two of those wins came in overtime to Jacksonville and Detroit teams that are a combined 6-24.

The Texans' best win during this recent string may have been two weeks ago, when they clinched their division by beating Indianapolis 29-17. With nothing to play for but pride in front of their home fans, how can the Colts reverse those results and deny the Texans a top-two seed and a first-round bye?

Of course, the biggest story around this game has nothing to do with either X's and O's or advanced stats. This game represents Chuck Pagano's return to the sidelines after missing three months fighting leukemia. As I have often written, intangibles are called intangibles because they are intangible. That doesn't mean they don't exist. We can't find any number that represents how Pagano's return might affect the motivation of his players, but it is a reasonable assumption that the Colts will take the field with a little extra fire in their bellies to go with the usual home-field advantage.

Of course, a little extra fire won't do much if they can't figure out a way to block J.J. Watt and cover Andre Johnson.