The AFC South pretty much has been the province of the Colts and Texans in recent years. Even though Houston fell apart last season, it's not a big surprise it has emerged as the only challenger to Indianapolis in the division this year.
Thursday night's meeting in Houston will provide a litmus test for both teams. Whether it offers a close contest is something entirely different, because previous midweek games in 2014 have resulted in routs.
Both teams are 3-2. Indy (No. 7 in the AP Pro32) is a 2 1-2 point favorite over Houston (No. 18).
"I mean it is early, but it is for first place so they're going to be fighting tooth and nail just like we are for first place in the division," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "I'd rather be, come Thursday at whatever time it will be, 10:30, 11 o'clock, I'd rather be in first than any other place, and then move on from there."
To take sole possession of the division lead and win their fourth in a row, the Colts need to protect Andrew Luck from J.J. Watt. Houston's defensive end has been not only dynamic, but perhaps the best player in the NFL so far — on offense or defense.
Watt has sacked Luck four times in his career.
"You do have to keep an eye on where 99 is, he's a stud," Luck said. "I hesitate to say you build a whole game plan around him, and I know as a quarterback, you don't ever want to get too locked in on what one guy on the defense is doing. I think that can get you out of rhythm, the offensive rhythm.
"But I know as a unit we have the utmost respect for him and what he does on the field."
What the Colts will do on the field is establish their pre-eminence in the AFC South.
No. 2 Denver (minus 8) at No. 29 (tie) New York Jets
Until Jets show something on either side of ball, it's natural to make their opponent the ...
BEST BET: BRONCOS, 31-16
No. 29 (tie) Jacksonville (plus 6) at No. 32 Tennessee
Jaguars will win a game this season. Why not this one?
UPSET SPECIAL: JAGUARS, 17-16
No. 13 New York Giants (plus 2 1-2) at No. 4 Philadelphia
It was tempting to make this the upset special, but we chickened out.
No. 28 Washington (plus 3 1-2) at No. 10 Arizona
Two banged-up teams, but Cardinals remain superior, especially at home.
No. 20 Chicago (plus 3) at No. 24 Atlanta
Two more banged-up teams, but Falcons have more reliable QB, especially at home.
No. 6 Dallas (plus 8) at No. 1 Seattle
Spiciest game on docket, particularly Richard Sherman-Dez Bryant matchup.
No. 8 San Francisco (minus 3 1-2) at No. 26 St. Louis, Monday night
Not quite matchup ESPN anticipated when season began.
No. 12 Baltimore (minus 3) at No. 26 (tie) Tampa Bay
Bucs played teams tough last two weeks, but they're stepping up in class a bit here.
No. 11 New England (minus 3) at No. 19 Buffalo
Bills have new owners, but it's Patriots who really own Bills: New England has won 20 of last 21 meetings.
No. 14 Carolina (plus 7) at No. 5 Cincinnati
Bengals need to rebound and show they are a contender. Tough assignment, but ...
No. 17 Pittsburgh (plus 2) at No. 22 Cleveland
Used to be one of pro football's best rivalries. Could be again soon ...
No. 3 San Diego (minus 7) at No. 31 Oakland
Used to be one of pro football's best rivalries. Won't likely be that again soon ...
No. 9 Green Bay (minus 3 1-2) at No. 23 Miami
A pair of well-rested teams. Only one of them is close to being elite.
No. 15 Detroit (minus 2) at No. 25 Minnesota
Schizophrenic Lions against injury-ravaged Vikings. With Teddy B back ...
2014 RECORD: Against spread: This week (9-6); Season (36-35-3). Straight up: This week (13-2); Season (50-25)
Best Bet: 3-2 against spread, 4-1 straight up.
Upset special: 5-0 against spread, 4-1 straight up.