(Editor's note: Every week this season, gay teenage NFL fan Jeremy Brener will give his perspective and predictions for the upcoming week).
As soon as the schedule was released, all Houston Texans fans like me knew that this game at Indianapolis to face the Colts would be the game to define our season and that it was a must-win in order to make the playoffs.
From a fan with rooting interest, the two best words to describe this game are nerve-wracking and insanity. The 6-7 Texans don't necessarily deserve to be in this position, and neither do the 6-7 Colts, but when the other two teams in your division are the Jaguars and Titans, somebody has to win the division. The Texans have never beaten the Colts in Indianapolis. In 13 tries, the Texans have left Indianapolis with a loss, including 2011 when they lost to a Colts team that was 1-13 coming in.
I'm hoping lucky the 14th time is the charm for the Texans, but it is hard to trust a team that loses 27-6 at home the previous week and get them to turn it around. It's hard to trust a team to get revenge and beat a team that stole your former franchise player (Andre Johnson) just to spite you and beat you at home earlier this season. I won't even make a prediction on a score because I am afraid to jinx it.
Last time the Texans went to Indianapolis to face the Colts, the situation wasn't much different from what it is now for the Texans. Houston was 7-6 and it was a potential clincher day for Indianapolis. Ryan Fitzpatrick broke his leg in the first half, which put our rookie third-string quarterback Tom Savage into the game to take on the mighty Colts. The Texans defense was strong, but ultimately fell to the Colts, who won their third consecutive division title.
Fast forward a year later, and it isn't a clincher day for either team, but it might as well be. The team that wins this game will be able to clinch the division next week with a win against a sub-.500 team. The Texans are in familiar territory, starting T.J. Yates, their third-string quarterback, but who will forever live in Texans lore as the guy who clinched the franchise's first playoff berth and won the franchise's first playoff game in 2011.
In Yates' second stint with the team this season, he has had some magical moments yet again, coming in relief to defeat an undefeated Bengals team on Monday Night Football and winning in a start the following week against the Jets. The Colts are in a similar spot. Their starting quarterback Andrew Luck has caught the injury bug this season, and now the bug may be starting to reach Matt Hasselbeck. The 40-year-old quarterback has started in four of the team's six wins this season, but has lost his past two starts in very ugly fashion. One of those games came last week against the Jaguars in a 51-16 loss where he injured his ribs.
Hasselbeck did not practice Wednesday, and if he does not suit up Sunday, it will be career backup Charlie "Clipboard Jesus" Whitehurst getting the start. Whitehurst has bounced around the league and has held a clipboard for the most part in his ten-year career, with his most storied moment coming in his tenure with the Seahawks in 2010, starting for an injured Matt Hasselbeck in a division-clinching win that put the 7-9 Seahawks in the playoffs. It's very eerie how similar these situations are. It's also quite baffling that a game with a third-string quarterback matchup could very well decide who wins this pitiful AFC South division.
Nerves and superstitions and highs and lows are part of the beauty of being an NFL fan. For one team to take you on a roller coaster every fall and to make you experience so many emotions all at the same time is thrilling. Even if your team's season ends in disappointment, it is very easy for a team to get it back together the very next season and go for a title. For instance, the Panthers were 4-8-1 at this point last season, and won the division. This season, they are 13-0 and are arguably the best team in the league.
There is beauty in not following an NFL team and being able to watch all teams from an even level, but following a team, making them your ride or die, putting emotion into specific players and teams is a fascinating experience of reward and heartbreak. I hope the Texans give me more reward than heartbreak this week.
Upset of the Week
Washington Redskins over Buffalo Bills
Despite their 6-7 record, the Washington Redskins control their own destiny and can forge their path into the playoffs by winning their lackluster division. The Redskins are a tale of two teams this season: the home team and the road team. On the road, the Redskins are 1-5, winning their first road game last week in a 24-21 win in Chicago against the Bears. On the other hand, the Redskins are 5-2 at home, and play their final home game of the season as a one-point underdog against the Bills.
The Bills also stand at 6-7 with far less of a chance to make the playoffs. A loss against the Eagles last week mathematically eliminated them from winning the AFC East, and they now sit a full two games behind the seventh-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bills are still alive, and are in a must-win situation going into Sunday's game against the Redskins, however, they still need a lot of help from the rest of the AFC contenders to stay in the hunt. It is also arguable that the Redskins need to win this game as well. A loss at home could see them relinquish control in the division and set them on a tough path to win two divisional games on the road to clinch the division.
This is such an important game for both teams, so I like the home team in this one. The Bills have lost four of their last five road contests, and are dealing with many injuries to their offensive line, which will be an opportunity for an underrated Washington front seven led by Ryan Kerrigan to salvage a victory for the Redskins. I like the home team, 27-21.
Fantasy Start of the Week
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson vs. Cleveland Browns
There is no hotter quarterback in the league right now than Wilson. Already a Super Bowl champion, he hasn't played better football than he has in his last four games. In Seattle's last four games, all wins, he has thrown for 16 touchdowns, and no less than 260 yards in any one of those four games. His receivers Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett are also lighting it up, with Baldwin scoring eight touchdowns in his last three games. Wilson is a quarterback putting up the best numbers in the league without a viable rushing attack, playing the worst team in the league, the Cleveland Browns. This spells S-T-A-R-T in 72-point, boldfaced, Times New Roman font.
Fantasy Sit of the Week
Cowboys RB Darren McFadden vs. New York Jets
The Cowboys offense just isn't the same with Tony Romo. Even with Dallas' killer offensive line, McFadden isn't a viable option this week. Since he became the starter in Week 7, he has only scored two touchdowns, and he only had nine carries last week. Granted, he ran for more than 100 yards, but lost goal-line touches to Robert Turbin. Plus, he has a terrible matchup against the Jets on Saturday.
This is the first Saturday Night Football game of the year, so it also means one less day to prepare for one of the most gruesome front sevens in the game. If McFadden is on your roster, he's a big risk to play this week, or any week for that matter. His concern at the beginning of the season was if he would stay healthy, and to many people's surprise, he has stayed healthy, playing in all 13 of Dallas' games thus far. However, with a playoff berth on the line, or a chance in the Fantasy Football Super Bowl at stake, McFadden is not the guy I want to trust as my running back, which should be my main source of point production. Maybe look to replace McFadden with my fantasy pick-up of the week.
Fantasy Pick-up of the Week
Jaguars RB Denard Robinson
Injuries devastated too many players this season, and last week was the pinnacle of injuries. Thomas Rawls, LeGarrette Blount, Jonathan Stewart, and T.J. Yeldon were some of the notable running backs injured, and it is affecting many fantasy owners' teams (mine included) as they head into their Week 15 playoff semifinals. Of all the names fantasy experts are sprinkling around, look for Denard Robinson.
He worked well in relief against the Colts last week, rushing for the team's third rushing touchdown all season, and he can do damage on the ground and through the air with the Jaguars' now high-octane offense, that has put up 45 PPG in the last two weeks. Robinson gets a great matchup against the Falcons, the team allowing the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Yeldon will likely be back next week, so this is strictly a Week 15 option.
Lock of the Week
New England Patriots over Tennessee Titans
Pretty self-explanatory. The Patriots are the best team in the AFC, already with 11 wins this year. The Titans on the other hand have won 11 games total in their last three seasons. The Patriots sit atop the AFC standings and control their own destiny towards homefield advantage in the Playoffs. Next in their path? A team in contention for the first overall pick, the Titans.
The Patriots were riding a two-game losing streak before they proved to the nation why they are the defending Super Bowl on Sunday Night Football last week, making a mockery of my Texans. The Titans were also made a mockery of by the Jets in a 30-8 blowout in the Meadowlands. This is the varsity against the junior varsity. It isn't the fact that the junior varsity Titans are not talented, but they are clearly outmatched and outcoached by Tom Brady and the Pats. Even with the Patriots banged up at all positions, Bill Belichick always puts out a team on the field that can compete with anyone. And with Brandon Bolden and James White, their third and fourth running backs leading the backfield, the Patriots will stampede the Titans, winning 28-10.
Buzzer's Best Bet
Outsports co-founder Jim Buzinski will make one pick each week against the spread.
Jets minus 3 at Dallas. Pick: Jets.
The Cowboys have been a shell of themselves on offense without Tony Romo, struggling to score points every week. This is not good when facing the Jets, who boast a solid defense that pressures the quarterback. On offense for the Jets, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been reborn and he has a great 1-2 receiver combo in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The Jets are fighting for a playoff spot while the Cowboys are planning their offseason vacations.
Last week: 1-0. Season: 8-6.
Hot Player of the Week
Bengals QB A.J. McCarron
Katherine Webb is absolutely stunning, and so is her husband, former Alabama Crimson Tide national champion and current Cincinnati Bengals starting quarterback AJ McCarron. McCarron will get his first start of the season Sunday against the 49ers. The Bengals are in a pivotal position in the AFC Playoff race, trying to earn a first-round bye.
With three games left to go, McCarron will have to come in clutch in the team's final stretch: a road game against the Niners, a Monday Night Football showdown against the Broncos, and a home closer against the Ravens. McCarron did decent in his first action this season, recording two touchdowns and two interceptions on 22-32 passing and 280 yards in replacing Andy Dalton against Pittsurgh. McCarron will need to put up a more efficient performance if he wants to clinch a playoff spot for his Bengals. No matter what happens, at least he'll look good doing it.
Jeremy Brener lives in Houston. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@BrenerJeremy).