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Colts LB Zaire Franklin anxious to play Texans, C.J. Stroud: 'I need to see that boy again'

Zaire Franklin's play over the past two seasons has forced the AFC South to take notice.

Some of his comments recently might get the Indianapolis Colts' rivals chatting a bit, as well.

Having come up a win short of the division title -- and a playoff spot -- last season following a loss to the Houston Texans, Franklin is champing at the bit to face C.J. Stroud and Co. again, while simultaneously dismissing the Tennessee Titans as a peer altogether.

"No, because I already smacked them a couple times," Franklin said on the Green Light with Chris Long podcast when asked if he had "beef" with the Titans. "It really be Houston. I'm not going to lie to you, I like C.J., man, I support all our young brothers at quarterback, but C.J., he done said a lot of wild stuff to me in our run-ins. … He is feeling himself. … I need to see that boy again."

Following five straight losses to the Titans, the Colts swept the season series in 2023 with Franklin contributing 18 tackles combined over the two victories -- which were each decided by one score. As for the Texans rivalry, the teams split the series last season, but Houston took the regular-season finale -- and the division with it -- by way of a nail-biting 23-19 triumph.

Franklin took some umbrage with how Stroud characterized the two rivalry games.

Stroud threw for 648 yards and four touchdowns, with 348 yards coming in a Week 2 loss in which he was sacked six times.

"Well, we were talking, and you know how the Super Bowl is at Radio Row, he had the XM Radio right before me and he was on there talking about how he cooked the Colts in both games," Franklin recalled. "I saw him and I pulled him aside and was like you know when you played Anthony (Richardson) it was like 28-7 in the second quarter, we were kind of blowing you out. …Yeah you threw for 300 yards but …"

Indeed, in Indy's win, the Colts held a 28-10 halftime lead and a 31-10 advantage after three quarters.

Richardson had a pair of rushing touchdowns before he was sidelined due to a concussion. In the teams' second meeting 16 weeks later, Richardson was done for the season due to a shoulder injury. As Franklin was quick to point out, Stroud -- the 2023 NFL Draft's No. 2 overall pick -- has yet to beat Richardson -- the No. 4 overall selection of the '23 draft.

"I was like if that's what you consider a cooking with the loss, I mean congratulations," Franklin said. "Then I have to remind him as well that he's never beaten Anthony."

A seventh-round pick of the Colts in the 2018 draft, Franklin has become a tackling aficionado since becoming a full-time starter. His ascent was a catalyst in former Pro Bowler Shaquille Leonard departing Indy. Franklin broke out with an eye-popping and head-knocking 167 tackles in 2022, and last year bettered that with 179.

During his time with the Colts, though, Franklin and Co. haven't won the division. Indianapolis' division-title drought extends all the way back to 2014. Since then, every other AFC South team has claimed the crown at least twice.

With the Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Texans having each won it over the last three seasons, perhaps it's finally the Colts' turn. Regardless of who wins the division at the 2024 season's end, Franklin has no doubt stoked the rivalry flames.

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