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Indianapolis ready to face Texans' big test

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Indianapolis ready to face Texans' big test

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Things are getting pretty simple in Indianapolis.

Win one more game and the Colts are in the playoffs. Win the next two and Bruce Arians sets the NFL record for wins by an interim head coach. Win all three and they're AFC South champs with a home playoff game.

The first hurdle is a big one: Sunday's game is at Houston.

``I think they know what's on the line and they've got a lot of pride. They were going to play anyway, whether they won or lost (Monday night),'' Arians said Wednesday, referring to the Texans. ``This is a pretty good rivalry and we're going to get everything they've got and their crowd and everybody else.''

Especially after the Texans disastrous performance at New England.

Most NFL observers expected the Texans (11-2) to be in this position in mid-December, trying to wrap up a second straight division crown and fine-tuning things for a postseason run.

But few, if any, expected the rebuilt Colts (9-4) to be Houston's nearest challenger in the AFC South, especially after a tumultuous offseason.

Team owner Jim Irsay, new general manager Ryan Grigson and new coach Chuck Pagano decided to start fresh in March, releasing four-time MVP Peyton Manning, cutting a handful of other popular longtime veterans and letting a few others leave via free agency. By the time Indy got to training camp with its hotshot rookie quarterback, Andrew Luck, the Colts were ranked dead last in the power rankings.

But after starting 1-2 and finding out Pagano was taking an indefinite leave after being diagnosed with leukemia, things changed.

Indy is 9-4 overall and 8-2 under Arians, winning three of five road games and seven of their last eight. They have a league-high eight wins in one-possession games, and Luck already owns NFL rookie records for most 300-yard games (six), most fourth-quarter comebacks (six) and most wins by the No. 1 overall choice since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. He needs 260 yards passing Sunday to break the league's single-season rookie record, trailing only Cam Newton's 4,051 yards from 2011.

Still, many wonder how good these Colts really are.

Indy's three road wins have come against Tennessee, Jacksonville and Detroit - teams that are a combined 10-29. The Colts' most impressive win came Oct. 7 when Luck rallied the Colts for a stunning 30-27 victory over Green Bay - the first game after Pagano's diagnosis. The Colts have only one other win over a team with a winning record and it came long ago, in Week 2 against Minnesota (7-6).

So the head-to-head showdown between Luck and the Texans' hard-charging defense could be a solid measuring stick for the NFL's most surprising team.

``For us, a chance to solidify a playoff spot,'' Luck said. ``Obviously the division is not sown up completely from what I understand and it's against, from our perspective, one of the premier teams in the AFC, the Houston Texans. We are going to have to bring our `A' game.''

One potentially major problem: The Colts offense might not be close to full speed.

On Tuesday, they put two running backs, starter Donald Brown (high ankle sprain) and fourth-stringer Robert Hughes (knee), on season-ending injured reserve. Third-stringer Delone Carter has been hobbled by an ankle injury, too, so Indy re-signed veteran Mewelde Moore and rookie Deji Karim, who were both cut by the Colts earlier this season.

That's not all.

Arians could not say Wednesday whether offensive linemen right tackle Winston Justice (biceps), left guard Joe Reitz (head) or center Samson Satele (ankle) would play Sunday, either. Justice and Satele did not finish last weekend's game against Tennessee and did not practice Wednesday. Reitz missed his eighth start of the season last weekend, but was fine on Wednesday.

Facing an angry Houston squad, stinging from the 42-14 rout by the Patriots, with a makeshift offensive line certainly isn't the ideal way to go into such a high-stakes game.

A victory would allow the Texans to take another step toward clinching the AFC's top seed and would help reassert their image as a Super Bowl favorite.

For Indy, the game is just as important. It's an opportunity for the Colts to show the football world they can go toe-to-toe with the league's top teams, home or away, with or without injuries and despite the resume that they deserve to be considered one of the league's best teams.

``This game is like no other,'' defensive end Cory Redding said. ``The Texans are a great opponent. These guys have great weapons on both sides of the ball. They've been doing some unbelievable things this year, and we've got our hands full. Like you said, the Colts used to own this division for many years, so it's time to go ahead and get that thing back.''

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3 things to watch when the .500 Nationals head to Colorado

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3 things to watch when the .500 Nationals head to Colorado

The Nationals face the Rockies at Coors Field for the first half of this work week. Here are three things to watch for:

  1. Can the Nationals stay above .500? Stephen Strasburg’s impressive start along with Ryan Zimmerman’s two homers and two RBI kept Washington from being swept by the lowly Marlins.

  2. Who will produce with Anthony Rendon out? While the Nats 3B was sidelined with an elbow injury after being hit by a pitch in Saturday’s outing against the Marlins, Howie Kendrick started in his place. Kendrick went 1-for-3 vs Miami with one RBI and one strikeout. In terms of replacing Rendon’s hitting prowess, Victor Robles has started a streak of his own. The youngster is hot on a seven game hit streak, including a bunt over the infield Sunday.

  3. Will the Nationals ever sure up their end game? Yesterday’s ninth inning was on the brink of disaster. Kyle Barraclough allowed back-to-back walks, then Sean Doolittle loaded the bases. Luckily for the Nats, crisis averted.

Download the MyTeams app (https://www.nbcsports.com/washington/myteams-nbc-sports ) for even more Nationals content, and check out the latest episode of the Racing Presidents podcast below.

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Blues eliminate Jets, Stars and Capitals pull ahead 3-2

NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Blues eliminate Jets, Stars and Capitals pull ahead 3-2

Friday saw the Toronto Maple Leafs pull ahead 3-2 and the Colorado Avalanche eliminate the favored Calgary Flames. Saturday provided another elimination game and two teams pulled ahead 3-2 in their series.

Here are the results from Saturday.

St. Louis Blues eliminate Winnipeg Jets with 3-2 win

The Blues return to the second round of the playoffs after they were eliminated in the first round last season.

The Blues rally started 23 seconds into the game, when Jaden Schwartz put home a Brayden Schenn rebound.

Schwartz followed with two more goals, completing the hat trick. It's the second natural hat trick in a playoff series clinching game since Geoff Courtnall in 1992.

The Blues await the winner of the Nashville-Dallas series.

Dallas Stars pull ahead of Nashville Predators in 5-3 victory

The Stars were able to steal one from the Predators at Bridgestone Arena thanks to Jason Dickinson and Alexander Radulov's two goal performances.

Tyler Seguin added a goal of his own to pull the Stars ahead 4-2 at the end of the second period, and Ben Bishop recorded 30 saves.

The Stars have a chance to close the series at home Monday night.

Washington Capitals take upperhand on Carolina Hurricanes with 6-0 shutout

After dropping Game 4 in Carolina 2-1, the Caps exploded for six goals against the Hurricanes in a 6-0 win.

Nicklas Backstrom scored the opening two goals. He leads the Capitals in playoff goals with five and had a four point night.

The Caps also got production from their bottom six with Brett Connolly's goal and Nic Dowd's converted penalty shot. It's the first penalty shot a Caps player has successfully made in the playoffs.

Braden Holtby's shutout gave him seven in the playoffs, surpassing Olaf Kolzig's six for the franchise lead. The Caps have a chance to win the series in Carolina Monday night.

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