Sunday, December 17, 2006

Every Game Counts

The Colts, oddly, can clinch the division today, even though they do not play. Wouldn’t that be ironic for a team that has embarrassingly lost three of its last four games? Here’s how it works:

The Colts clinch the division if Jacksonville loses at Tennessee today, because a Jacksonville loss means that they will have a record of 2-4 in the division. Even if the Colts lose their last division game, the Christmas Eve game at Houston, the Colts would have a 3-3 record in the division, which would be the tiebreaker if the Colts and the Jaguars finished the season with the same record. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head, which is a split. The second is record in the division, which the Colts would win if Jacksonville loses today.

The Colts could also clinch a playoff spot by beating Cincinnati on Monday night, because that would give them 11 wins, and there are only six teams in the AFC that can still win 11 games - and six teams from each conference go to the playoffs.

A wrinkle: the third division tiebreaker is common games, where the Colts lead the Jaguars because the Colts have one loss against common teams (Dallas). Jacksonville has two losses against common teams (Washington and Buffalo). So, regardless of what else happens, a Colts win against Miami, or a Jacksonville loss against New England clinches the division for the Colts, because it sews up the common game tiebreaker for the Colts.

Another wrinkle: there are three AFC teams with 6 losses - Kansas City, Denver, and NYJ. The Colts have head-to-head tiebreakers with Denver and NYJ. Well, what the hell does that mean? It means that the Colts clinch a playoff spot if ANY of those three teams loses ANY of their last three games. The Colts don’t even have to win in this scenario.

Although...if the Colts lose out and all the other AFC teams win out, that leaves the Colts tied with Kansas City, Denver, and NYJ for the last playoff spot. Like I said, the Colts already have head-to-head tiebreakers against Denver and NYJ. That leaves only Kansas City. So let’s check their record against common teams. Kansas City currently has two losses against common teams, with one game left to play; and the Colts have one loss against common teams, with two games left to play.

So this is the bottom line - the Colts are in the playoffs UNLESS they lose out and Kansas City wins out. If that happens, the Colts and Chiefs have the same record, but the Chiefs would have a 3-2 record against common teams, while the Colts would have a 2-3 record against common teams.

Getting homefield advantage is another story altogether. San Diego is 5-0 against common teams - with no games against common teams left to play - which means the only way the Colts can clinch homefield advanatage is if they win out and the Chargers lose two of their last three. The problem is that San Diego finishes with a home game against Kansas City, an away game against Seattle, and a home game with Arizona. The chances of them losing two of those are slim - probably they win all three.

So the Colts will once again not have homefield advantage, although it looks pretty much like a lock that they will get into the playoffs. Note what this says about the strength of the AFC - the Colts are 10-3 but have not clinched a playoff spot, and could, conceivably, not make the playoffs. I don’t think they will lose out, and I will almost guarantee that Kansas CIty will lose one of their last three - their game today is at San Diego, which they will lose, thereby making the point moot.

The Colts will get into the playoffs, but they can’t beat San Diego, and they would probably have trouble beating Baltimore, Jacksonville, or New England. (They may have proven over the last two years that they can beat the Patriots, but twice in the same season - and with the season on the line? I don’t think so.) Yet one more season that started great but will wind up in the crapper - the Dolphins with Marino at least got to the Super Bowl once, and the Bills with Jim Kelly got to the Super Bowl four times (they lost all four games, but at least they won the AFC title, four times in a row!).

This is a Colts team with Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, two of the best players at their positions in the history of the NFL - and yet they always come up short in the playoffs. Always. As always, I hope that I am wrong - but I really doubt it.

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