The Indianapolis Colts lost 16-10 at home to the Houston Texans today in a game that delivered a crushing blow to the Colts' playoff hopes. Had the Colts won, they would be one win away from a postseason berth. Now, they're facing the likely reality of watching the postseason from home to end a season that began with Super Bowl hopes and expectations.
Chuck Pagano said after the game that, "until they mathematically say you're done, we're fighting." He's right in the sense that the Colts aren't officially eliminated yet, but they're close.
The easiest way for the Colts to make the playoffs is for them to win their last two games and for the Texans to lose their last two games. If that happens, the Colts would be 8-8 while the Texans would be 7-9, giving the Colts the AFC South title. The Colts still have to play on the road against the Dolphins (5-8) and then host the Titans (3-11), while the Texans have to play on the road against the Titans (3-11) and then host the Jaguars (5-9). Of course, after the Colts have been outscored 112-36, them winning their next two is anything but certain. If the Colts lost another game and the Texans win one of their last two, it's a division title for the Texans.
The best the Colts can finish this year is 8-8, and the Texans would get to that same record by splitting their remaining two games. So, if the Colts finish 2-0 and the Texans finish 1-1, it would then go to the tiebreakers. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, but the Colts and Texans both won a game this year, so they would be even in that area as well. The second tiebreaker, then, is division record, and splitting the next two would bring Houston to 4-2 in the AFC South - the same record that the Colts would have if they win the last two. The third tiebreaker is common opponents, and if the Colts win out and Houston splits, both teams will be tied at 6-6 against common opponents. Then the fourth tiebreaker is record within the conference, and in this scenario, the Colts and Texans would both be tied at 6-6. So it would come down to the fifth tiebreaker, which is strength of victory - in other words, strength of schedule but only counting the teams that you beat. As of right now, the Colts' strength of victory (if you include winning their last two) would be .418 (46-64), while the Texans' strength of victory (if you include winning one of their last two) would be either .427 (47-63) or .445 (49-61), depending on which team they beat to finish the year. So that would give the Texans the division title by a very slim margin on the fifth tiebreaker if we go by the records of those opponents right now, but there is a slim way for the Colts to win this tiebreaker if a host of other games go the right way.
So, in other words, here are the playoff scenarios for the Colts: 1) win their final two games and have the Texans lose their final two games; or 2) win their final two games, have the Texans win only one of their final two games, and hope that a number of other games featuring teams the Colts beat end up going the right way.
Of course, here's the most important part of that equation: the Colts need to win their last two to have a shot. So if they hope to make the playoffs, they have to take care of their own business and then hope to get enough help. Considering their struggles recently, winning the final two games is no certainty whatsoever.