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Colts hold on to AFC wild-card chances

T.Y. Hilton #13 of the Indianapolis Colts catches a pass as he slips behind Kareem Jackson #25 of the Houston Texans during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium on December 9, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The short-term focus is understandable.

“Right now what we’re focused on is next week, as you would expect me to say,’’ Frank Reich said Sunday after his Indianapolis Colts handled the Texans in Houston 24-21. “That’s really all that matters.’’

Next week is here, and the Dallas Cowboys lurk. They’ll bring an 8-5 record and five-game winning streak into Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday.

But one of the significant byproducts of ending Houston’s nine-game winning streak at NRG Stadium was remaining very much in the playoff picture. Five teams are in pursuit of the AFC’s second and final wild-card spot, six if you include Pittsburgh. The 7-5-1 Steelers lead the AFC North, but have lost three straight, face consecutive games against New England and New Orleans and undoubtedly see 7-6 Baltimore in their rearview mirror.

While the Colts have followed a one-game-at-a-time approach, especially after their 1-5 start, Reich hasn’t kept them from seeing the bigger picture.

“Yes, we talked about it before this last game,’’ he said. “We do have a goal of going 4-0 in the fourth quarter (of the season).

“That is a goal. That’s our goal. That’s the vision. But our approach is still 1-0 every week.’’

According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Colts still face an uphill climb if they’re to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The last time they failed to reach the postseason in four consecutive seasons: 1978-86.

The website puts the Colts’ chances at earning a wild-card spot at 26 percent, behind Pittsburgh (58 percent), Baltimore (48 percent), Tennessee (33 percent) and Miami (30 percent).

Of course, the arrow will continue to trend up with each additional victory.

A look at the remaining schedules for the teams in pursuit of the second AFC wild-card spot. We’ve included the Steelers, since they’re hardly closing with a strong finishing kick.

  • 7-5-1 Pittsburgh: New England (9-4), at New Orleans (11-2), Cincinnati (5-8). Opponents’ record: 25-14.
  • 7-6 Baltimore: Tampa Bay (5-8), at Los Angeles Chargers (10-3), Cleveland (5-7-1). Opponents’ record: 20-18-1.
  • 7-6 Colts: Dallas (8-5), New York Giants (5-8), at Tennessee (7-6). Opponents’ record: 20-19.
  • 7-6 Tennessee: at New York Giants (5-8), Washington (6-7), Colts (7-6). Opponents’ record: 18-21.
  • 7-6 Miami: at Minnesota (6-5-1*) Jacksonville (4-9), at Buffalo (4-9). Opponents’ record: 14-23-1 (*-Vikings play Monday night).
  • 6-7 Denver: Cleveland (5-7-1), at Oakland (3-10), L.A. Chargers (10-3). Opponents’ record: 18-20-1.