According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, the Indianapolis Colts are ranked as the NFL’s top ‘playoff crasher‘–based on 13 teams that are currently out of the playoffs but can still take hold of their postseason destiny:
1. Indianapolis Colts (5-5)
Playoff odds: 24.5 percent
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I’ll take the Colts as the top potential playoff crasher, because the Texans aren’t exactly in great shape. Houston is a six-point underdog to the Raiders in Mexico City on Monday night, and if they lose, they’ll be just one game ahead of the Colts with the tiebreaker and six games to play. Houston would still be favored to make the playoffs in that scenario, but they’re just a bad football team; the Texans were 30th in DVOA heading into this week, trapped between the 49ers and Jets among the absolute worst teams in football on a play-by-play basis. The Colts weren’t much better, at 27th, but Houston was closer to Cleveland in dead last than they were to Indy.
Houston and Indy both have three home games left after Week 11, including home games against the Jaguars. The Colts have to travel to face the Raiders (in Oakland as opposed to Mexico City) and Vikings, but their other road trip is to play the Jets. The Texans travel to face the Titans and Packers in addition to, quite crucially, the Colts. The clear advantage for the Texans is that they host the Chargers, while the Colts have to face the Steelers in Indy on Thanksgiving night. The other problem for the Colts is that the Texans are currently 3-0 in the division, while Indy is 2-2.
The Titans could still run interference here, but the Colts have a win in hand, and if the Texans collapse over the second half — and teams who go 5-0 in one-score games through nine contests don’t exactly have a great track record in keeping that sort of stuff up — the Colts are well-positioned to take advantage and regain the AFC South.
Of course, it’s hard to disagree with this assessment.
The Colts have the luxury of playing in the league’s worst division, the AFC South, and trail the Houston Texans by just two games for the division lead–only one if the latter loses tonight.
With the Colts set to face Houston head-to-head during Week 14 of this year’s regular season, in a game that could very well determine the division, the AFC South crown is far from set in stone.
Oct 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien (left) shakes hands with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) following Houston’s 26-23 overtime at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Barring a Texans late season collapse, I’m betting the Colts will have to win at least 2 of 3 games against tougher opponents such as the Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 12), Minnesota Vikings (Week 15), and Oakland Raiders (Week 16), as well as the Week 14 game against the Texans and the remainder of their schedule to have a fighter’s chance.
It’s possible that the Colts could still win the AFC South with only 1 of 3 games against ‘tougher opponents’, as Houston still has to play quality opponents such as the Oakland Raiders (Week 11), San Diego Chargers (Week 12), Green Bay Packers (Week 13), and Cincinnati Bengals (Week 16).
However, with the Packers clearly struggling, and the Bengals having potentially lost star wide receiver A.J. Green for the season, I wouldn’t bank on it.
Even if the Colts at some point tie Houston’s overall record, the team still has to overcome their 2-2 divisional record, whereas Houston is currently 3-0 in the AFC South. A win against Houston in Week 14 still places the Colts at 3-2 compared to the Texans 3-1 in the division.
As it stands, currently the Colts are two games behind the Texans–plus a divisional tie-breaker, which is still some significant ground to make up.
The Colts do not control their own destiny, but an upset against the 5-5 Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving, who routinely have blown out Indianapolis, would certainly go a long way toward improving their odds of winning the AFC South and ultimately their chance of making the playoffs.