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INDIANAPOLIS – Let it be clear from the start: the Colts (4-5) have a long way to go before we can realistically talk about them as a playoff team in 2018.

They need to do their part in probably having to win at least 5 of their last 7 games, to get to 9-7 on the season and hoping that is enough.

But just one game outside of the current playoff picture, and with seven weeks to go in the regular season, the chatter is still there if the Colts can finish the year with a flurry.

One thing that is really impacting the Colts’ playoff chances (besides a sub .500 record) is early-season losses to the Texans and Bengals, two games that Indianapolis blew late leads.

Most assume that winning the AFC South is the most logical/realistic way for the Colts to make the playoffs.

However, the Wild Card path could actually be the ‘easier’ route for the Colts.

Let’s break down the two paths:

Division

-At 6-3, the Houston Texans return from their bye week with a two-game lead in the division. Houston’s six-game win streak began with an overtime victory over the Colts back in Week Four. That’s where the first issue lies with the Colts trying to win the division. They’ve already lost once to the Texans, so they now sit on the wrong side of the early divisional tiebreaker. Houston is 2-1 in the division right now and the Colts are 1-1, so the margin for error is really slim for Indianapolis.

-Also, let’s take a look at Houston’s schedule down the stretch. They have 7 games left: 3 divisional games ALL at home, plus contests with the Jets, Browns, Washington Football Team and Eagles. It’s hard to see them winning anything less than 9 games, especially with the health they have of all their top talent right now. Catching Houston is going to be difficult and winning a tiebreaker over them is going to take some help, too.

Wild Card

-Right now, 4 teams have at least 5 wins in the AFC, but are not leading their respective divisions: Chargers (7-2), Bengals (5-4), Titans (5-4) and Dolphins (5-5). We will go under the assumption that the Chargers earn one Wild Card spot, especially when their schedule left includes home meetings with the Broncos and Cardinals the next two weeks. If the Chargers get on a run, the Chiefs would then just take that top Wild Card spot. So that leaves one Wild Card spot open in the AFC, with no definite answer as to who that might be.

-The Bengals (5-4) are the biggest threat to the Colts because of their record and the fact that they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indy. But the Bengals are currently without their best player A.J. Green (toe) for at least another game. Also, look at the remaining schedule for Cincinnati. It includes these games: at Ravens, at Chargers and at Steelers. It’s going to be quite the hike for Cincinnati to finish at 9-7 given that slate. They do play the Browns twice and have home games with Oakland and Denver, though. Remember, the Colts need to finish ahead of the Bengals in the standings after having lost the head-to-head tiebreaker back in Week One.

-The Titans (5-4) are coming to Lucas Oil Stadium this week after a convincing, 34-10, win over the Patriots. Tennessee has won back-to-back games after their bye week and are squarely in the hunt for a playoff berth. Down the stretch, the Titans have a very manageable schedule, with two games left against the Colts. That’s where this head-to-head matchup will be decided, with the Colts and Titans meeting in Indy on Sunday and then closing out the season in Nashville on Dec. 30.

-The Dolphins (5-5) are headed for their bye before coming to Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 25. On paper, the Dolphins have probably surprised some people going 5-5, especially with Ryan Tannehill missing 5 games. Where the Colts have a potential advantage over Miami is that meeting coming up a week from Sunday. That’s where the Colts can gain a tiebreaker over the Dolphins. Miami doesn’t have too daunting of a slate down the stretch, outside of back-to-back December games against the Patriots and Vikings.

Again, the Colts need to do their part before either of these paths becomes more realistic.

That means likely needing a 9-7 record, which would result in the Colts winning 8 of their final 10 games this season.

They’ve won 3 in a row.

Will they continue that march this Sunday?

Current AFC South Standings

-Texans (6-3)

-Titans (5-4)

-Colts (4-5)

-Jaguars (3-6)

Current Wild Card Standings

-Chargers (7-2)

-Bengals (5-4)

-Titans (5-4)

-Dolphins (5-5)

-Ravens (4-5)

-Colts (4-5)