INDIANAPOLIS – This is not exactly where they hoped they’d be.
Not at 7-6 and seeded 9th in the muddled AFC playoff picture as they head into their bye week.
“You could easily go back and say, ‘Oh, man, we should have had this one. We should have had that one,’’’ tight end Jack Doyle said Monday afternoon. “But that’s football. Stuff happens.’’
Frank Reich agreed. His Indianapolis Colts could have – ok, should have – positioned themselves better for what promises to be an interesting December push to the playoffs. They’re basking in the glow of Sunday’s 31-0 demolition of the Houston Texans, but realize earlier losses to Tennessee, Baltimore and Tampa Bay – squandering double-digit leads each time – carry long-term impact.
“Ideally we would like to be in a better position than we are, but we’re thankful we’re in it,’’ he said. “We’re thankful for the trajectory that we’re on.
The position they’re in? The Colts are one of so many teams in the incredibly unpredictable AFC with a realistic path to the postseason.
The four division leaders match 8-4 records, but 13 of the 16 teams in the conference remain viable contenders. Miami is 6-7, but lurks as the No. 13 seed after winning five straight.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, this is the first time in 19 years every team in the AFC has at least four losses through week 13.
The four division leaders – New England (AFC East), Tennessee (AFC South), Baltimore (AFC North) and Kansas City (AFC West) – have at least an 82% chance of reaching the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. No. 5 seed Buffalo is at 86% and the No. 6 seeded Los Angeles Chargers are at 77%.
The Colts actually have a better shot at the third and final wild-card spot (61%) than No. 7 Cincinnati (42%) or No. 8 seed Pittsburgh (18%).
It’s all enough to make your head hurt, and that’s a good thing in the NFL.
Consider Monday night’s AFC East showdown in Orchard Park, N.Y. New England takes an 8-4 record and No. 1 seed into Highmark Stadium, but would slip to second in the division and No. 5 in the pecking order if the Buffalo Bills defend home turf.
The Colts’ fan base might actually be pulling for the Patriots, as difficult as that would be. New England winning the AFC East – round 2 comes in week 16 in Foxboro – would push the Bills into the wild-card mess, and Indy holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Buffalo.
And of course, the Colts come out of their bye and face the Patriots Dec. 18 in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Getting there is what it’s all about. Prior to that, being in position is what it’s all about.
That’s December in the NFL.
“No doubt,’’ Reich said. “You want to get into December and be one of those teams that has a chance. I think our mindset is we’ve got a great opportunity if we take care of business week-to-week, and we know for that to happen we’ve got to play some good teams along the road.
“If we can do what we’re supposed to do, you’d like to think that things would take care of themselves.’’
Tight end Jack Doyle has experienced both extremes during his nine-year career. He’s been involved in meaningful December games that led to four playoff appearances, and endured a few seasons that saw the Colts limp into the offseason.
“That’s how it kind of is every year,’’ Doyle said. “You want to be playing your best football right now, and I feel like we’re headed in that right direction. Just excited to be playing relevant football in December, right?
“We’ve put ourselves in position to be playing football that means something in December. That’s all you can ask for. Excited to have the challenge. That’s why we play the game. That’s what makes football fun.
“It’s a four-game season at this point.’’
Sizing up the AFC field
(Seedings are prior into Monday night’s Patriots at Bills game and remaining schedule)
- New England (8-4): at Buffalo (7-4), bye, at Colts (7-6), vs. Buffalo (7-4), vs. Jacksonville (2-10), at Miami (6-7).
- Tennessee (8-4): vs. Jacksonville (2-10), at Pittsburgh (6-5-1), vs. San Francisco (6-6), vs. Miami (6-7), at Houston (2-10).
- Baltimore Ravens (8-4): at Cleveland (6-6), vs. Green Bay (9-3), at Cincinnati (7-5), vs. Las Vegas (6-6), vs. Pittsburgh (6-5-1).
- Kansas City (8-4): vs. Las Vegas (6-6), at Los Angeles Chargers (7-5), vs. Pittsburgh (6-5-1), at Cincinnati (7-5), at Denver (6-6).
- Buffalo (7-4): vs. New England (8-4), at Tampa Bay (9-3), vs. Carolina (5-7), at New England (8-4), vs. Atlanta (5-7), vs. New York Jets (3-9).
- Los Angeles Chargers (7-5): vs. New York Giants (4-8), vs. Kansas City (8-4), at Houston (2-10), vs. Denver (6-6), at Las Vegas (6-6).
- Cincinnati (7-5): vs. San Francisco (6-6), at Denver (6-6), vs. Baltimore (8-4), vs. Kansas City (8-4), at Cleveland (6-6).
- Pittsburgh (6-5-1): at Minnesota (5-7), vs. Tennessee (8-4), at Kansas City (8-4), vs. Cleveland (6-6), at Baltimore (8-4).
- Colts (7-6): bye, New England (8-4), at Arizona (10-2), vs. Las Vegas (6-6), at Jacksonville (2-10).
- 10. Las Vegas (6-6): at Kansas City (8-4), at Cleveland (6-6), vs. Denver (6-6), at Colts (7-6), vs. Los Angeles Chargers (7-5).
- Cleveland (6-6): vs. Baltimore (8-4), vs. Las Vegas (6-6), at Green Bay (9-3), at Pittsburgh (6-5-1), vs. Cincinnati (7-5).
- Denver (6-6): vs. Detroit (1-10-1), vs. Cincinnati (7-5), at Las Vegas (6-6), at Los Angeles Chargers (7-5), vs. Kansas City (8-4).
- Miami (6-7): bye, vs. New York Jets (3-9), at New Orleans (5-7), at Tennessee (8-4), vs. New England (8-4).
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.