The turning point of the Houston Texans' season is easy to pinpoint.
They were 0-3 when they went into overtime against the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth game of the season. With 27 seconds left in the extra period, the Colts opted to go for a first down on a fourth-and-4 play from their own 43. Andrew Luck threw an incompletion. The Texans then completed a 24-yard pass and kicked a game-winning field goal on the game's final play.
The Texans have not lost since, winning nine straight games heading into the rematch against the Colts on Sunday in Houston.
The Texans (9-3) would clinch the AFC South and a playoff berth if the Tennessee Titans produce a loss or a tie against Jacksonville on Thursday and Houston follows with a win over the Colts.
Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is intent on keeping his team focused on the task at hand.
"It's very important," O'Brien said. "In all seriousness, every week's a different matchup. The Cleveland Browns were a totally different team relative to how they match up against us than the Indianapolis Colts. Every week is very different."
The Texans handled the Browns 29-13 on Sunday to give Houston the longest active winning streak in the league. But O'Brien says there is still work to be done.
"Yeah, I mean I don't think we're getting worse," O'Brien said. "We were 0-3 and we're 9-3, so I think we're improved, but are we where we need to be? No. We can always improve. There are so many different areas that we can improve in. That's what we're going to try to do this week."
After throwing seven interceptions in the first six games of the season, Watson has thrown just two picks while throwing 12 touchdown passes in the six games since.
He has also run for 375 yards this season, although he still gets sacked a lot, taking 15 sacks over the past four games.
Hopkins has 80 receptions for 1,115 yards and eight touchdowns this season, and he had a season-high 10 catches for 169 yards and one TD in the previous game against the Colts.
However, the Texans' strength is their defense. They allow just 19.6 points per game, which ranks third in the NFL, and they have 34 sacks.
Their pass-rushing tandem of J.J. Watt (11.5 sacks) and Jadeveon Clowney (7.0) have combined for 18.5 sacks this season. Watt continues to be limited by knee problems, but he is expected to play on Sunday.
The Colts rank first in the NFL in terms of pass protection, giving up a sack every 2.83 percent of their pass attempts.
But Luck was sacked three times on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who not only beat the Colts to end their five-game win streak, but shut them out 6-0.
"Obviously we struggled and struggled a lot, but you learn from every game," Luck said. "There is sort of the emotional part of a game and you go through that cycle -- sort of directly (after) the game. But you wake up the next morning and you sort of put the emotions aside, the result aside and you look at the cycle of play."
It was the first time in his 82-game pro career that Luck was shut out, and he knows the chore won't be any easier against the Texans.
"We will have our hands full," Luck said. "I know guys are excited to get back out on the practice field today. I know I certainly am, and figure out a way to get better as a team."
The Colts (6-6) need to get better in a hurry because they are in virtually a must-win situation in terms of their playoff hopes.
But the Colts have been in that situation nearly all season.
"We put ourselves not in must-win situations," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "That's been our mantra the whole year and that's not going to change. We are a process-oriented, people-oriented team. We focus on getting better every day. We know that's what works, that's what's stood the test of time. That's the best way to prepare for this week and that's all that matters."
With a win, the Texans will mathematically eliminate the Colts from division title contention. The Texans are 5-1 at home, and the Colts are 2-4 on the road this season.
"I just want to win on Sunday," Watt explained. "I just want to go out there and win on Sunday. I think it's the one-day-at-a-time mentality."