Colts playoff picture: How Indianapolis can clinch division or wild-card spot in Week 17

The Indianapolis Colts could end Week 17 as AFC South champions, and AFC wild card team or an eliminated team. It’s all in play Sunday against the Jaguars.

Indianapolis enters Sunday as the No. 8 seed in the AFC. In the NFL’s new expaned playoff field, seven teams qualify from each conference, so the Colts are on the outside looking in. But a lot can still happen in a week of football.

Jacksonville just locked up the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which both points to how bad the Jags are but also suggests they’ve got nothing to lose in Week 17. Whether James Robinson (ankle) can suit up for Jacksonville could go a long way toward their competitiveness. Meanwhile, the Colts have gotten almost fully healthy by this point in the year and will be counting on the experience of Philip Rivers to carry them on to another week of football.

Here are the various ways the Colts can win the AFC South or grab a wild card spot in Week 17.

AFC South: Colts win and Titans lose at Texans

Entering Sunday, the Colts and Titans have the same record at 10-5, but Tennessee holds the tiebreaker, in part due to Indianapolis’ Week 1 loss to the Jaguars. So apparently the Colts beating Jacksonville isn’t as easy as it looks on paper, as that’s still the Jags’ only win of the year.

The only way Indy can leapfrog Tennessee for the division crown is with a win and Titans loss, because if they end up with the same record, Tennessee will remain ahead of the Colts.

The Titans’ chances of winning in Week 17 could depend on what Houston does with Deshaun Watson. The quarterback injured his throwing hand late in the Texans’ Week 16 loss to the Bengals, and his backup is A.J. McCarron. With nothing to play for, Houston could choose to protect Watson but also greatly hurt its chances of upsetting the Titans.

Whoever wins the AFC South will end up with the No. 4 seed in the AFC and play the best wild card team in the first round. The Chiefs, Steelers and Bills already have more than 11 wins and couldn’t be passed by the Colts or Titans.

Wild Card: Colts win and one of Ravens/Browns/Dolphins loses or ties

The Colts have to like this scenario a bit better. As long as Indianapolis beats Jacksonville and one of their three competitors for the wild card loses, the Colts are in.

The Ravens play the Bengals, who are one of the worst teams in football and without their top QB and RB, but Cincinnati also upset Houston in Week 16 after beating Pittsburgh the week before. It’s not the best time to be playing the Bengals, apparently.

The Dolphins play in Buffalo against a Bills team with only seeding to worry about. Miami did turn back to Tua Tagovailoa as its starter after Ryan Fitzpatrick’s magic in Week 16, and the rookie has been inconsistent this season.

The Browns got a bone early in Week 17 when the Steelers announced Ben Roethlisberger would sit out and Mason Rudolph would play quarterback against Cleveland. If the Browns can’t win that matchup, they don’t deserve a spot in the playoffs, anyway.

The Colts would also make the playoffs with a tie combined with a loss by any of this trio of teams. 

To be clear: Indianapolis has no scenario where it can make the AFC playoff field with a loss.

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