Heading into their seemingly annual showdown with the rival Patriots, the Colts find themselves in excellent shape for a playoff berth.
Despite not playing on Sunday, Indianapolis’ postseason chances improved by a wide margin with many of the Wild Card contenders losing. Both San Diego and Miami lost to dip under .500, meaning that the Colts (6-3) now lead the rest of the pack by two full games in the AFC Wild Card hunt. The Jets, Raiders, and Bills – if you even want to consider them – are now three full games back after Sunday losses, and barring a complete reversal of fortune, are out of playoff consideration.
San Diego's ten-point loss to Tampa Bay helped the Colts build their cushion
Even though Houston’s win over Chicago probably put the AFC South title out of reach (Houston would have to fall to about 11 wins and finish 3-4, which just doesn’t seem likely), it’s hard to see a scenario where the Colts wouldn’t make the postseason.
There are two spots for five teams, and the Colts and Steelers are in the driver’s seat. Here's how they can get there...
Wins over the Bills, Titans, and hapless Chiefs would put the Colts at nine victories, and that should be good enough to get Indy onto the dance floor. That would mean that all the Colts have to do is finish 3-4 over their final seven games. On the flip side of that, the Chargers and Dolphins would have to finish 5-2 to get to nine wins, and Miami needs ten to leapfrog the Colts because of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Riding a four-game winning streak, I’m not going to rule out a win in New England, although that would obviously be a surprise. Splitting with the Texans in Week 15 and Week 17 (the latter of which could come with Houston resting starters), and winning in Detroit certainly isn’t out of the question. Giving Indy just one win in those four would put them at 10-6 and virtually assure a playoff berth.
Pittsburgh: Kansas City, Baltimore, at Cleveland, at Baltimore, San Diego, at Dallas, Cincinnati, Cleveland
Miami: at Buffalo, Seattle, New England, at San Francisco, Jacksonville, Buffalo, at New England
Cincinnati: at Kansas City, Oakland, at San Diego, Dallas, at Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, Baltimore
San Diego: at Denver, Baltimore, Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, Carolina, at NY Jets, Oakland
Among the four-win teams, the Colts own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins and the Titans (with one to play), and do not face the Chargers or Bengals. Further back in the standings, they do not own the tiebreaker over the Jets, and still have to play the Bills. So, any tie scenario with Miami, Tennessee (if they sweep), or the NY Jets are out the window.
As for conference record, the Colts own the same mark as the Chargers (4-2). Cincinnati is just 2-5 against AFC foes, which puts them well behind, while Miami and Tennessee are both 3-4. The third tiebreaker is winning percentage in common games. The Colts and Chargers play five games against four common opponents: Tennessee, Kansas City, Cleveland, and the NY Jets. San Diego is already 3-1 in those games (with just a trip to the Jets left), and the Colts are 2-1 in those contests with games remaining versus the Titans and at the Chiefs. The Colts and Bengals also play five games against four common opponents: Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami, and Kansas City. Cincinnati is 2-2 in those games, while the Colts are 3-1. Both only have a game against the Chiefs remaining. If it does get to a fourth tiebreaker (strength of victory), that’s where the Colts will run into some issues – of their six wins, five have come by six points or less - while San Diego's four victories have come by an average of 17+ points.
The rest of the tiebreakers (points scored/allowed, net points, etc.) can’t really be calculated until later in the season.
Predicting a winning record and a playoff berth would’ve gotten you laughed out of the room in August. Now, it's a reality. With a 6-3 record, the Rookie of the Year favorite (and MVP candidate) at quarterback, potentially the Coach of the Year, and an All-Pro soon-to-be 34-year old wide receiver, this has been a remarkable season. But, I’m done talking about how surprising it is.
The only “surprise” now would be the Colts missing the postseason, not making it.