The Texans' Chase for an AFC South Title Could Get VERY Complicated

The Texans' Chase for an AFC South Title Could Get VERY Complicated
Photo by Eric Sauseda

We are two days removed now from the College Football Playoff pairings being announced, and now in the middle of the "Did they get it right?" phase of analysis. This year was actually exceptionally easy and non-controversial, relatively speaking. But some seasons (See: 2014) are the polar opposite. Debate rages on into the offseason. 

That's what happens when your postseason is decided by a sports beauty pageant with 12 judges employing 12 different criteria of what defines "beauty." That's college football. The NFL, on the other hand, is all the way at the other end of the subjectivity scale in determining its postseason. In short, there is no subjectivity. It's all decided by results and math. Numbers rule.

This brings us to the Houston Texans and their chase for the 2015 AFC South Title, which has been a dead heat between them and the Colts for most of the season, even during the Texans' dreadful 2-5 start. We are down to the final four regular season games remaining, including one more head-to-head matchup between the two teams, and if things play out to where the Texans have a shot at this, the math in determining their fate could make your NFL Sundays very complicated and, if you have the bandwidth in your skull, very fun!

Let's start, for the sake of this post, by assuming a couple of things that are very sound in their logic:

1. With three 7-5 teams in front of them for the two wild card spots at the moment, the Texans' overwhelmingly most likely shot at the postseason is in winning the AFC South. A wild card spot is a long shot at this point, especially with the Patriots looming this weekend. The Texans, oddsmakers say, are on the verge of falling two games out of the wild card race with three games to go. Let's not waste energy focusing on that, okay? Okay, good. Next...

2. Let's assume the Texans MUST beat the Colts in Indianapolis (for the first time ever) on December 20 in order to win the division. The odds of winning the division where you're tied with four games to go and you lose the head-to-head matchup 2-0 with the other contender are ridiculously small. So for the sake of having a discussion worth having, we must assume this happens, otherwise, it's on to 2016 draft analysis.

Now, let's lay out the remaining schedules of the two 6-6 leaders of the AFC South:

TEXANS' REMAINING SCHEDULE:

12/13 vs New England (10-2)
12/20 @ Indianapolis (6-6)
12/27 @ Tennessee (3-9)
1/3 vs Jacksonville (4-8)

COLTS' REMAINING SCHEDULE:

12/13 @ Jacksonville (4-8)
12/20 vs Houston (6-6)
12/27 @ Miami (5-7)
1/3 vs Tennessee (3-9)

If we play out the rest of the season, include a Texans win over Indianapolis (which would likely be a minor upset) and let the oddsmakers determine the winners of the remaining games, it probably looks like this:

TEXANS' REMAINING SCHEDULE:

12/13 vs New England (10-2): LOSS
12/20 @ Indianapolis (6-6): WIN
12/27 @ Tennessee (3-9): WIN
1/3 vs Jacksonville (4-8): WIN

COLTS' REMAINING SCHEDULE:

12/13 @ Jacksonville (4-8): WIN
12/20 vs Houston (6-6): LOSS
12/27 @ Miami (5-7): WIN
1/3 vs Tennessee (3-9): WIN

(NOTE: I'm assuming Andrew Luck is back for the Miami game. If it's still Hasselbeck starting, the Colts could be a small underdog in Miami, but for the sake of this post, let's assume that the Dolphins "Dan Campbell" that game.) 

So under this scenario, both the Texans and the Colts would finish the season 9-7. So now what? Well, I'm glad you asked! Let's go through the NFL tie breakers, and an advance warning — you may want to grab a beer and get comfortable! Let's play this out….

1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
The Colts and the Texans will have beaten each other once, so we continue...

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
The Colts and the Texans would both be 5-1 in the AFC South, so we continue….

3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
The Colts and the Texans both play two games apiece with the Jags and Titans, and one game apiece with the entire AFC East and NFC South. Their combined record against those teams would be an identical 7-5, so we continue….

4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
The Colts and the Texans would have identical conference records of 7-5, so we continue….

5. Strength of victory.
Okay, so what does this mean? I don't blame you for asking, because rarely do we make it this far on the tie breaker list. Essentially, this tie breaker gives the division to whichever team has beaten opponents with a better combined record. Yikes! So where does this stand right now?

TEXANS WINS:
Tampa Bay (6-6)
Jacksonville (4-8)
Tennessee (3-9)
Cincinnati (10-2)
New York Jets (7-5)
New Orleans (4-8)

COLTS WINS:
Tennessee (3-9)
Jacksonville (4-8)
Houston (6-6)
Denver (10-2)
Atlanta (6-6)
Tampa Bay (6-6)

So right now the Texans have beaten six teams with a combined 34-38 record, and the Colts have beaten six teams with a combined 35-37. WOW, it's that close! To make rooting as easy as possible for you, you can eliminate having to worry about what any of the AFC South teams do in their other games, as those games will cancel each other out in this tiebreaker, since the Texans and Colts would have identical AFC South ledgers. Also, Tampa Bay would count the same for each team, since the Texans and Colts both beat the Bucs, so they're a non-factor.

So basically, under this scenario, the Texans' playoff fate would be determined by the Bengals, Jets and Saints winning as many games as possible, and the Broncos, Falcons and Dolphins losing as many games as possible. That's how far down the tie breaker rabbit hole we are. 

By the way, the Falcons play the Saints in Week 17. How crazy would it be if that game determined who won the AFC SOUTH?!? It could happen, and it's not far-fetched. 

In case you're wondering, here are the next set of tie breakers:

6. Strength of schedule.
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
9. Best net points in common games.
10. Best net points in all games.
11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
12. Coin toss

If it makes it to coin toss, I feel pretty good about our chances. The last time the city needed to win a coin toss, we wound up with the draft pick the Rockets used on Hakeem Olajuwon. 

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.                 


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