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Here is how the Colts could still make the playoffs

The Colts are already guaranteed a winning season and control their playoff destiny if they close the season with a victory at Jacksonville.
Credit: AP
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard (53) calls out the play in the defensive huddle during an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

INDIANAPOLIS — With one game and one week left in the 2021-2022 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts are very much alive in the AFC playoff picture.

At 9-7 heading into the regular season finale at Jacksonville Sunday, the worst the Colts could finish is one game above the .500 mark in the NFL's first 17-game season.

While Sunday's 23-20 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders formally eliminated the Colts from the AFC South race, they are still favorites to emerge from Week 18 as one of the conference’s three Wild Card teams.

While the Colts are in with a win over the Jaguars, they could still get into the playoffs with a loss at Jacksonville, where they have not won since 2014.

Colts AFC Wild Card scenarios

The Colts will enter Week 18 as the AFC's No. 6 seed behind No. 5 New England at 10-6 and the No. 7 seed Los Angeles Chargers. The Colts and Chargers share 9-7 records.

Simply put, the Colts make the playoffs with a win over the Jaguars. They're also in if they tie Jacksonville on Sunday.

But their seeding and Wild Card opponent depends on what the Patriots do against the Dolphins on Sunday and the out come of Sunday night's Chargers-Raiders game on NBC (8:20 p.m. on Channel 13). 

Assuming the Colts beat the Jaguars: 

  • If the Patriots and Chargers win: Colts finish as the 6th seed
  • If the Patriots and Raiders win: Colts finish as the 7th seed
  • If the Dolphins and Chargers win: Colts move up to the 5th seed
  • If the Dolphins and Raiders win: Colts finish as the 6th seed

The top overall seed in each conference gets a bye to the divisional round of the playoffs. The No. 2 seed will play the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed will play the No. 6 seed and the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds will match up in the Wild Card round. But in the AFC, the seeding picture at the top of the playoffs is just as muddled as the bottom, with four teams potentially claiming the top seed in the conference heading into the final weekend.

Remember last year, when the Colts had to beat the Jaguars to make the playoffs in the season finale at Lucas Oil Stadium? They took care of business that day, winning 28-24 at home.

But Sunday's 1 p.m. ET kickoff is on the road.

But what if the Colts lose Sunday? 

Scenarios for how the Colts can still make the playoffs even with a loss at Jacksonville hinges on what happens in other games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 Monday night to stay alive in the Wild Card race. The Steelers are now 8-7-1 on the season. 

Should the Colts lose to the Jaguars, they will need the Baltimore Ravens to beat Pittsburgh Sunday, leaving the Steelers at 8-8-1, a half game behind what would be a 9-8 Colts team. 

Also, the Raiders would have to beat the Chargers, leaving Las Vegas at 10-7 and the Chargers at 9-8, plus have the Dolphins find a way to beat New England and finish 9-8, giving the Colts a tiebreaker berth over the Chargers. The Dolphins were eliminated from contention when the Chargers beat the Broncos Sunday afternoon.

Incidentally, if the Steelers and Ravens tie Sunday in Baltimore, the Colts would only need a Raiders win over the Chargers to grab the No. 7 seed.

Doomsday scenario

While most outcomes Sunday seem to point to the Colts reaching the postseason for the second straight year, there are three ways that would leave Indy at home for the playoffs.

A loss to Jacksonville paired with a Chargers win or tie would eliminate the Colts, as would an Indianapolis loss and a Steelers win. Also, if the Colts fall to the Jaguars, the Ravens beat Pittsburgh and the Dolphins lose to or tie the Patriots, the season is over in Indianapolis.

As you plan your Sunday, expect to know the Colts' playoff fate by 4 p.m. if they win. Otherwise, plan to stay up late to see whether the Raiders can pull off the last game of a trifecta that could extend the Colts' season.

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