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NFL Playoff Picture: Colts’ postseason hopes rest on winning AFC South

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 in the NFL is now in the books, and that means we’re getting closer and closer to the postseason with only five weeks remaining.

For the Indianapolis Colts, that means they have just five weeks to jump from third place to first place in the AFC South to secure a playoff spot. It’s not as daunting of a challenge as it may initially sound, however, as the Colts are much closer than the standings would suggest. The Houston Texans lead the division at 6-5, while the Tennessee Titans (6-6) and then the Colts (5-6) follow after. The Colts have already established the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Titans, meaning all they have to do is finish with an equal or better record. It gets a bit more complex with the Titans, but either way the Colts are close. In fact, there’s a very plausible scenario in which the Colts could be in first place in just two weeks. If the Colts beat the Jets this weekend and the Texans lose to the Packers, the teams would both be 6-6 and the Colts would take the division lead by beating the Texans head-to-head the following week.

So you get the idea: the Colts are still very much in the playoff race, but they’ll need to win their division or will almost certainly miss the postseason entirely, as it looks incredibly unlikely that the AFC South would get a wild card. The division leader right now wouldn’t even be a wild card team if you just took the six best records in the AFC in the playoffs, so thinking the division could get a wild card will be counting on losses by several of the AFC West teams (and they do play each other quite a bit coming up, so those losses could come) and the Miami Dolphins, among others (like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat the Colts head-to-head and also have a better record than them). At this point, it looks like winning the division is still the one likely playoff path for the Colts, and it’s still a very reasonable one with five weeks to go.

One other note about the playoff picture is that of the twelve teams currently projected to make the postseason, the Colts have played three of them - and lost all three. They blew a lead in week one against the Detroit Lions; they blew a lead in six against the Houston Texans; and they never even had a lead in week eight against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Here’s what the full AFC playoff picture looks like right now:

  1. New England Patriots (9-2; AFC East)
  2. Oakland Raiders (9-2; AFC West)
  3. Baltimore Ravens (6-5; AFC North)
  4. Houston Texans (6-5; AFC South)
  5. Kansas City Chiefs (8-3)
  6. Miami Dolphins (7-4)
  7. Denver Broncos (7-4)
  8. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
  9. Buffalo Bills (6-5)
  10. Tennessee Titans (6-6)
  11. Indianapolis Colts (5-6)
  12. San Diego Chargers (5-6)
  13. Cincinnati Bengals (3-7-1)
  14. New York Jets (3-8)
  15. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)

And here’s what the NFC playoff picture looks like:

  1. Dallas Cowboys (10-1)
  2. Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1)
  3. Detroit Lions (7-4)
  4. Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
  5. New York Giants (8-3)
  6. Washington Redskins (6-4-1)
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5)
  8. Minnesota Vikings (6-5)
  9. New Orleans Saints (5-6)
  10. Green Bay Packers (5-6)
  11. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)
  12. Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1)
  13. Carolina Panthers (4-7)
  14. Los Angeles Rams (4-7)
  15. Chicago Bears (2-9)