INDIANAPOLIS – Let’s not understate the magnitude of Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Yes, the Indianapolis Colts ended their eight-game losing streak against New England, but it’s the aftershock of pounding the Patriots that’s worth noting.
The AFC playoff picture remains a muddled mess – only the Jets, Texans and Jaguars have been eliminated with three weeks remaining – but the Colts find themselves holding the No. 5 seed and a very favorable path to the postseason. The AFC South title and first-round playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium aren’t out of the question.
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Colts have an 89% shot at earning a playoff berth and a 16% shot at chasing down the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South.
Coach Frank Reich’s appreciation of his team’s performance against New England was evident in his postgame message, but he also kept things in perspective.
“We know where we want to go and we’ve got to beat teams like that,’’ he told the team. “We’ve got a lot of respect for that team. That’s a good football team.
“As great of a victory as it is, it only counts as one win. It only counts as one win and we know we’ve got a lot further to go up this mountain. But I tell you what, we’ve got the right team, we’re on the right track and I like where we’re going.’’
Initially, the Colts are going to Glendale, Ariz. for a Christmas night meeting with the 10-4 Cardinals. Their odds of reaching the playoffs bounce to 97% with a win and dip to 81% with a loss. They close the season at home against the Las Vegas Raiders (6-7) and at Jacksonville (2-12).
While things have lined up nicely for the Colts to secure a wild-card spot, the division remains in play. They trail the Titans by just one game in the standings, but essentially are two back with three to play since they were swept by Tennessee.
To win their first AFC South title since 2014, the Colts need to continue their hot streak – wins in seven of nine – and the Titans to lose at least two of their last three. If Tennessee goes 1-2, the Colts win the division with a 3-0 finish. If the Titans finish with losses to San Francisco, Miami and Houston, Indy claims the AFC South with a 2-1 finish.
A 2-1 finish by the Titans – they’ve lost three of their last four – clinches a second straight AFC South title.
Sizing up the AFC field
1. Kansas City (10-4): vs. Pittsburgh (7-6-1), at Cincinnati (8-6), at Denver (7-7).
2. New England (9-5): vs. Buffalo (8-6), vs. Jacksonville (2-12), at Miami (7-7).
3. Tennessee (9-5): vs. San Francisco (8-6), vs. Miami (7-7), at Houston (2-12).
4. Cincinnati (8-6): vs. Baltimore (8-6), vs. Kansas City (10-4), at Cleveland (7-6).
5. Colts (8-6): at Arizona (10-4), vs. Las Vegas (6-7), at Jacksonville (2-12).
6. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6): at Houston (2-12), vs. Denver (7-7), at Las Vegas (6-7).
7. Buffalo (8-6): at New England (9-5), vs. Atlanta (6-8), vs. New York Jets (3-11).
8. Baltimore (8-6): at Cincinnati (8-6), vs. Las Vegas (6-7), vs. Pittsburgh (7-6-1).
9. Cleveland (7-6): vs. Las Vegas (6-7), at Green Bay (11-3), at Pittsburgh (7-6-1), vs. Cincinnati (8-6).
10. Pittsburgh (7-6-1): at Kansas City (10-4), vs. Cleveland (7-6), at Baltimore (8-6).
11. Miami (7-7): at New Orleans (7-7), at Tennessee (9-5), vs. New England (9-5).
10. Denver (7-7): at Las Vegas (6-7), at Los Angeles Chargers (8-6), vs. Kansas City (10-4).
12. Las Vegas (6-7): vs. Denver (7-7), at Colts (8-6), vs. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6).
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.