As we woke up on a glorious Monday morning following the Texans' 16-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Indy, first time ever for our hometown team, not only was the air fresher and the food tastier, but the standings actually lined up the best possible way they could for a 9-7 or 8-8 team that will likely be headed to the playoffs after about a dozen quarterback changes.
As of Monday morning, here were the playoff-style standings in the AFC:
1. New England 12-2 (AFC East champion)
2. Cincinnati 11-3 (AFC North champion)
3. Denver 10-4 (AFC West champion)
4. HOUSTON 7-7 (AFC South champion)
5. Kansas City 9-5 (Wild card #1)
6. Pittsburgh 9-5 (Wild card #2)
The only other teams currently with a postseason pulse are the New York Jets (9-5) in the wild card hunt, and the Colts (6-8) and the Jags (5-9, in a playoff coma with the plug nearly pulled), who are both being kept alive by the shit show that is the AFC South.
Before we get into scenarios for the Texans, I actually like the way a playoff like this would line up for them, all things considered. Certainly, of the two wild card teams, I'd rather face Alex Smith and the Chiefs (their eight-game winning streak notwithstanding) than this Pittsburgh Steelers buzzsaw that just hung 34 on the Broncos' top-rated defense. You get them at home, and then, why can't the Steelers knock off the Broncos again in a 3 vs 6 matchup? If that happens, then the Texans travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals, where they've won already and against whom they own a 2-0 playoff record.
And hey, what if the Steelers went into New England and won a shootout with Tom Brady and the Pats? Then you get the AFC Title Game at NRG STADIUM!! Dare to dream, people. DARE TO DREAM…
Okay, now back to reality…here are the remaining schedules for all the relevant teams, as a point of information:
1. New England 12-2: @ NY Jets, @ Miami
2. Cincinnati 11-3: @ Denver, vs Baltimore
3. Denver 10-4: vs Cincinnati, vs San Diego
4. HOUSTON 7-7: @ Tennessee, vs Jacksonville
5. Kansas City 9-5: vs Cleveland, vs Oakland
6. Pittsburgh 9-5: @ Baltimore, @ Cleveland
New York Jets 9-5: vs New England, @ Buffalo
Indianapolis 6-8: @ Miami, vs Tennessee
Jacksonville 5-9: @ New Orleans, @ Houston
Okay, with all that information out there, let's get to the scenarios for the Texans. Off the top, let's get any scenarios with the Jags in the mix out of the way. Jacksonville basically needs to go 2-0 and have the Colts AND Texans go 0-2, so any semblance of the Fighting Bortles mattering comes down to a de facto play-in game in Week 17 at NRG Stadium. There, that was easy.
The more interesting and more relevant scenarios involve the Colts, so let's talk about those:
SCENARIO 1. Texans go 2-0, and they win the AFC South and secure the four seed
Odds-wise, this is the most likely scenario, since the Texans should be favored in each of their final two games. This is the one that is best for our collective stress level, Houston.
SCENARIO 2: Texans go 1-1, Colts go anything except 2-0
Good enough! 8-8 and the four seed! Woo-hoo!
SCENARIO 3: Texans go 1-1, Colts go 2-0
This is the one where it gets fun, and it's made slightly easier to extrapolate by the fact that the Texans play two division games to close out the season, so we know what their division record will be regardless of to whom they lose. Under this scenario, we would wind up going to the FIFTH tiebreaker, a possibility I mentioned two weeks ago here. Let's go through them:
* 1st TIEBREAKER: Head-to-head record
Both would be 1-1.
* 2nd TIEBREAKER: Division record
Both would be 4-2 in the division.
* 3rd TIEBREAKER: Record vs common opponents
Both would have a 7-5 record against common opponents.
* 4th TIEBREAKER: Conference record
Both would have a 6-6 record in conference games.
* 5th TIEBREAKER: Strength of victory
Okay, here we go — "strength of victory" is a succinct way of saying, "Whose victories were over teams with a better combined record?" Now, obviously, for the Texans, there are two possibilities — beating the Titans and losing to the Jags, and losing to the Titans and beating the Jags.
The Colts' eight wins would be over the following: TEN, JAX, HOU, DEN, ATL, TB, MIA, TEN
That group of teams currently has 47 wins.
If the Texans went 8-8 with a win over Tennessee 12/27, their eight wins would be over the following: TB, JAX, TEN, CIN, NYJ, NOLA, IND, TEN
That group of teams currently has 50 wins.
If the Texans went 8-8 with a win over Jacksonville 1/3, their eight wins would be over the following: TB, JAX, TEN, CIN, NYJ, NOLA, IND, JAX
That group of teams currently has 52 wins.
In either of these scenarios, the only teams that can affect the difference between the Texans' and Colts' strength of victories are CIN, NYJ and NOLA for the Texans, and DEN, ATL and MIA for the Colts, as all the other wins for both teams are over common opponents and, therefore, affect each team the same way. In other words, all the other teams panel themselves out.
For fun, here are the remaining schedules for those six teams:
TEXANS' BEST FRIENDS
Cincinnati (11-3): @ Denver, vs Baltimore
NY Jets (9-5): vs New England, @ Buffalo
New Orleans (5-8): vs Jacksonville, @ Atlanta
COLTS' BEST FRIENDS
Denver (10-4): vs Cincinnati, vs San Diego
Atlanta (7-7): vs Carolina, vs New Orleans
Miami (5-9): vs Colts, vs Patriots
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SHOW ME HOW
The bottom line is that, at 8-8, it would take some pretty major carnage and lots of upsets for the Texans to miss the playoffs.
SCENARIO 4: Texans go 0-2, Colts go 1-1
The Texans lose any scenario that doesn't have them winning at least one of their final two games. So no need to break down a ton of complicated math here.
Let's not discuss that one. We are in a happy place right now!
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.