This time last week, the Indianapolis Colts appeared to be comfortably in the playoff mix, controlling their own destiny with two games remaining.
Fast forward to now, after a disappointing 28-24 Sunday loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that comfort has vanished.
With one game remaining in the regular season, the Colts are one of five teams in the AFC at 10-5, but the other four teams all claim tiebreakers over the Colts, making them the eighth-of-seven playoff seeds and the first team on the outside looking in if the postseason was to start today:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-1)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3)
3. Buffalo Bills (11-3)
4. Tennessee Titans (10-5)
5. Miami Dolphins (10-5)
6. Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
7. Cleveland Browns (10-5)
8. Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
But all is not yet lost for the Colts this weekend.
First things first, they must take care of business and defeat the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars (1-14) on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Jaguars’ one victory came against the Colts in Week 1.
The Colts also need one of the 10-5 teams to lose or tie: the Titans, Ravens, Browns, and Dolphins.
Technically, the Colts could also get in with a tie coupled with a loss by any of the aforementioned teams.
In the event the Titans slip behind the Colts on the regular-season finale weekend, the Colts could then claim the AFC South Division, lock up a top-four seed, and host at least one playoff game.
History is on the Colts’ side. According to Bob Kravitz of The Athletic, the last 73 teams to start the season 10-4 have made the playoffs, and just two 11-5 teams have ever missed the postseason.
Games to Monitor
For drama’s sake, the NFL flexed the Colts-Jaguars and Titans-Houston Texans games to the 4:25 p.m. EST late window.
With that being the case, the Colts will know just how heavy the stakes are in their matchup, with three influential games being played beforehand.
Here are the games Colts fans will want to keep an eye on this Sunday, with the teams they want to root for italicized:
Miami Dolphins (10-5) at Buffalo Bills (11-3) (1 p.m.) — The Bills play on Monday Night Football in Week 16, so they will enter Week 17 either 12-3 and with the No. 2 seed, or 11-4 and needing a win against the visiting Dolphins as well as a Pittsburgh (12-3) loss to earn the No. 2 seed. The Bills own the head-to-head tiebreaker on the Steelers. Because the Bills have a secure playoff spot regardless, they could rest starters.
Baltimore Ravens (10-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1) (1 p.m.) — On paper, the Ravens have the thorough upper hand, but the Bengals have played teams extremely tough in recent weeks. They not only held a 21-point lead against the Colts in Week 6, but they’ve also had one-score finishes against the Browns (twice), and defeated the Titans and Steelers.
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3) at Cleveland Browns (10-5) (1 p.m.) — Colts fans can hope the Steelers got their mojo back in rallying from a 17-point, third-quarter deficit to win Sunday. But with a top-four seed secured and 14 weeks removed from their bye week, they may want to rest some of their more important players. The Browns should be getting their wide receivers back from the COVID list in Week 17.
Tennessee Titans (10-5) at Houston Texans (4-11) (4:25 p.m.) — While the initial thought was that Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson may rest in this game with nothing to play for, he has said that he wants to give it a go. Anytime he’s on the field, the Texans have a chance to win. The Titans have just as much to play for this week as the Colts, and will play the undermanned Texans tough.
Colts head coach Frank Reich commented on his team’s playoff situation after Sunday’s loss at Pittsburgh:
“Yeah, I feel very confident in how we'll respond. That's what we talked about in there just for a minute was, hey, very disappointed about what happened today from all of us, that when we had everything to play for, we just didn't have the answers coaching and playing that we needed in the second half to win a very important game. But, you know, you can't take away all the positive stuff that we've done this year, coaches and players. So I'm not doubting, I'm not doubting us. I'm not doubting our coaching staff. I'm not doubting the players. I'm not doubting what we're doing and how we're doing it and who we're doing it with. We had a bad game, or bad half. And we weren't able to finish it off. So we gotta learn from it, get better for next week and take care of our business next week and finish the season off the right way and then hopefully get some help.”
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