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Do the Colts control their own destiny?

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

NFL tiebreakers can be a confusing thing. And as we approach the playoffs, tiebreakers will be a much bigger deal as people try to figure out whether a certain team will make the postseason or be left at home.

That’s a discussion many Colts fans will be having, as since the AFC South is so close tiebreakers very well could come into play. So that prompts this question that you might hear often: do the Colts control their own destiny?

That was a question asked to general manager Ryan Grigson last night, who said that they don’t control their own destiny but then also said that he hasn’t looked at it in-depth to tell for sure.

And the short answer is simple: No, the Colts do not currently control their own destiny.

For the sake of our discussion, when I say “control their own destiny” I’m meaning this: that as long as the Colts go 5-0 to finish the season they’re guaranteed to win the AFC South and make the playoffs regardless of how any other team or game finishes. And that’s not a true statement at this point in the season, because no matter what the Colts will need some help even if they take care of business in their final five games and win them all (which would mean wins at home against the Texans and then on the road in back-to-back weeks against the Vikings and Raiders, three winning teams in a row).

In that scenario, the Colts would finish the season a very respectable 10-6. The best the Texans could do in that scenario would be to finish the season 10-6 and having won four of their last five, meaning there would be a tie for the AFC South lead. So it would then go to tiebreakers, and in our scenario the Colts beat the Texans in week 14 and therefore neutralize the first tiebreaker.

So it would then go to the second tiebreaker, which is division record. It’s here that the Colts would need help and it’s this tiebreaker that means the Colts don’t control their own destiny. If the Colts finish the season 5-0 and the Texans finish 4-1, the Colts would have gone 4-2 against AFC South opponents and the Texans would have gone 5-1, meaning that Houston would win the tiebreaker. So in other words, if the Colts win their next five, they would still need the Texans to lose an additional time to finish 9-7 instead of 10-6, which would make Indy the division champ. Clearly, then, the Colts don’t control their own destiny and will need the Texans to also lose in order for them to win the division, something they can only control in one of the next five games.

Just for the sake of discussion, however, let’s suppose that the Colts finish 4-1 and the Texans finish 3-2, meaning they both finish with the same record, and let’s suppose the Colts’ loss comes out of the division and the Texans’ other loss (in addition to their loss to the Colts) comes within the division. That would mean they finish with the same record (9-7) and have the same division record at 4-2. It would then go to the third tiebreaker, which is record in common games. Currently, the Texans have the edge in record against common opponents over the Colts, as they’re 5-2 and the Colts are 3-4. But there’s still definitely a chance that the Colts could catch up in that tiebreaker, in which case it’d go to the fourth tiebreaker of conference games (the Texans currently lead that 4-4 to 3-5), and if somehow that tiebreaker was also neutralized it would go to strength of victory (another tiebreaker the Texans currently lead but that could be just as easily reversed by the end of the season).

In any event, that’s getting way ahead of ourselves, because even if the Colts win out they would need the Texans to stumble to have the edge in the second tiebreaker, but in that case the Colts would have the edge record-wise anyway. But the bottom line, to answer the point of this article, is that the Colts currently do not control their own destiny. To understand just how close things are, however, consider this: if the Colts win this weekend and the Texans lose, the Colts all of the sudden control their own destiny if they could win out. Now, expecting the Colts to finish the season on a five-game win streak is highly unrealistic, but there’s a chance. And at this point, for that chance to become reality will require not only them to play well but will require a bit of help as well.