Week 8 has come and gone, and the Colts have been swept by the Titans for the third time in AFC South history (since 2002). Indy currently sits 3-5 and is four games back in the division behind Tennessee. The future looks bleak, but I’m here to tell you it’s not over yet. While the Colts hopes are slim, not only are the playoffs still possible but the division technically isn’t gone either. It’s going to take some magic, but it’s nothing that would be considered impossible. The thing is that with all of the other teams in the AFC doing so well, there are currently 11 teams with records at or above .500 in the playoff race. The Colts are not one of those teams. The chances go up much higher should they win the AFC South rather than play for a wild card spot.
The most significant factor in the Colts making the playoffs is that the Titans’ superstar running back, Derrick Henry, is likely out for the season. After a foot injury sustained in the Week 7 game in Indy, Henry will require surgery that will probably keep him out for the rest of the regular season. Tennessee has been relying heavily on him throughout the season, and the offense will likely need some major adjustments now. After all, Ryan Tannehill hasn’t been particularly impressive without Henry on the field. As a result, his yards per attempt goes down, his touchdown numbers go down, his quarterback rating goes down, and his sack rating goes up. All by a pretty decent margin.
But with the Titans having such a massive lead in the division, how could the Colts possibly still be in the race regardless if they can’t play offense or not? Well, three of the next four games for the Titans are against teams at or above .500 (LAR, NO, NE). The fourth is against the Texans. If those teams can pull out wins like the Chiefs and Bills should have against Tennessee, the Titans could be looking to be around 7-5 by their bye week in Week 13. Meanwhile, three of the next five games for the Colts are against teams UNDER .500 (NYJ, JAX, HOU). All very winnable (and at this point in the season, must-wins). However, the other two are against two of the best teams in the league (BUF and TB). So in order the Colts to have a shot, they HAVE to win at least one of the two. If that happens, that will put the Colts at 7-6 and the Titans at 7-5 heading into Week 14. And that’s when things get interesting.
Tennessee would still have the lead in the AFC South (the tiebreaker being the Indy sweep), so they would still be one game ahead, despite having the same amount of wins. The final games of the season for the Titans seem pretty favorable at the moment. But without Derrick Henry, some could easily be lost. Games against Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Miami, and Houston seem like probably wins for the Titans. But they could easily drop to PIT, SF, and even MIA. However, they would likely need to also drop one to either of the division opponents to give Indy a fighting chance. Doing this would put the Titans finishing the season 8-9.
Coming out of their Bye Week, the Colts have games against New England, Arizona, Las Vegas, and Jacksonville to finish the season. Arizona and Las Vegas have played exceptionally well this year, but both have shown apparent weaknesses. The Colts would likely have to beat one of the two. New England has been up and down, but Indy would probably have to beat them as well. Jacksonville, in the end, is a must-win. They haven’t won in Jacksonville since 2014, so it’s going to be tough for sure, but it has to be done.
Should Tennessee finish the season 8-9 and not the more likely 9-8, the Colts only need one of the three against New England, Las Vegas, or Arizona to win the division. And at this point in the season, winning the division seems like the only way to play football at the end of January. It’s time for Indy to batten down the hatches because the weather from here out will be rough. Almost every game from here out is a must-win, and there is little to no room for mistakes like the ones made last Sunday. But perhaps the most crucial part of this scenario is if the Colts can’t beat these other current playoff teams to make their way into the playoffs, then why bother even trying to make them?