Week 15 of the NFL season brought the Texans to an intriguing fork in the road. In what's been a wild season for parity around the NFL — to wit, a team that started the season 0-3 is now among the half dozen or so top contenders for the Super Bowl, and yet they could still miss the playoffs — the Texans came into this past weekend with some fairly simple scenarios:
1. Lose to the New York Jets and have your chances of being the 3-seed in the AFC put into fairly substantial cement.
2. Beat the Jets, but have the Patriots beat the Steelers, and ditto the above result on the 3-seed in the AFC.
3. Beat the Jets, have the Steelers beat the Patriots, and now if the Texans win out, they will be the 2-seed in the AFC, complete with a bye for the first weekend of the playoffs!
In other words, HOLY CRAP, this is getting fun!
So, as of Tuesday morning, here's how things look in the AFC, if the season ended today (overall record, division record, and conference record in parentheses):
1. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, AFC West champion (11-3, 4-1, 9-2)
REMAINING SCHEDULE: at SEA, vs OAK
2. HOUSTON TEXANS, AFC South champion (10-4, 3-2, 8-3)
REMAINING SCHEDULE: at PHI, vs JAC
3. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, AFC East champion (9-5, 3-1, 6-4)
REMAINING SCHEDULE: vs BUF, vs NYJ
4. PITTSBURGH STEELERS, AFC North champion (8-5-1, 3-1-1, 5-5-1)
REMAINING SCHEDULE: at NOLA, vs CIN
5. LA CHARGERS, Wild card #1 (11-3, 3-2, 8-2)
REMAINING SCHEDULE: vs BAL, at DEN
6. BALTIMORE RAVENS, Wild card #2 (8-6, 2-3, 6-4)
REMAINING SCHEDULE: at LAC, vs CLV
Worth noting, the Colts and the Titans are the next in line for that last playoff spot, both at 8-6, like the Ravens. Also, worth noting, that they play each other in Week 17, so if they each win this weekend — Indy has the Giants at home, and the Titans have the Redskins at home, both are double digit favorites — and the Ravens lose to the Chargers this weekend in LA, that would essentially be a play-in game in Nashville in Week 17. I LOVE THE NFL!
Now, let's look at possibilities for the Texans. For now, even though they haven't wrapped up the division yet, we continue to look at scenarios as if they will. If things break wrong this coming weekend, then we will be doing a different, more nervous kind of post previewing Week 17, for sure. For now, here are the tiebreakers to be mindful of against Kansas City, New England, and possibly the Chargers:
1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
4. Strength of victory.
5. Strength of schedule.
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best net points in conference games.
9. Best net points in all games.
10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
11. Coin toss.
OK, here are the relevant observations:
1. Again, if the Texans win out, they will be the 2-seed in the AFC, at the very least.
The Texans finish the season at Philadelphia this weekend and home for Jacksonville in Week 17. Worth noting, the Eagles will be playing without Carson Wentz at starting quarterback. Worth noting even MORE, the Eagles won a Super Bowl with backup Nick Foles under center, and Foles just pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season on Sunday night, beating the Rams in LA. From a gambling perspective, the Texans are a PICK EM on Sunday afternoon.
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2. The Texans are still in play for the 1-seed, but barely.
They would obviously need for the division winner to finish 12-4, not 13-3, as Kansas City and the Chargers can both mathematically do right now. A 12-4 Chiefs team would have to have their fourth loss be to Oakland in Week 17, so as to tie the would-be 12-4 Texans with a 9-3 conference records, and then move onto more favorable tie breakers for the Texans. A 12-4 Chiefs that loses to Seattle and beats Oakland, would beat the 12-4 Texans in a tiebreaker because of a superior conference record. The Chargers, on the other hand, would need their 12-4 record to come from a loss to the Ravens and a win over the Broncos, and not vice versa to beat the Chiefs in the AFC West, as vice versa would make the Chargers 3-3 in the division, and the worst the Chiefs can do in division is 4-2. Also, as you can see, that any scenario for the Texans being involved in the 1-seed makes Oakland beating the Chiefs in Week 17 mandatory, so it's fair to wonder why I spent the last six minutes typing this paragraph, but it's STILL OUT THERE, MAN.
3. Doomsday scenario — the Texans could still miss the playoffs.
Yeah, I wasn't going to mention it, but here's how precarious the AFC South division title still is, relative to the odds that the Texans win the thing. (They were like a 99 percent chance to win the division as of this weekend.) If the Titans and Colts win this weekend, and the Texans lose to the Eagles and Jags — not the craziest scenario ever — then the winner of Colts-Titans in Week 17 wins the AFC SOUTH, as they will have split with the Texans head to head, and will have a 4-2 division record (to the Texans' 3-3 division record with a loss to the Jags. From there, the Texans would still have a great shot at a wild card, but it's not locked up yet. (The Chargers beating the Ravens this weekend would seem to go a long way toward sealing that, though.)
So there you go, the path to the 2-seed got a whole lot clearer. Now the Texans just need to win, something at which they've become exceedingly good over the last couple months.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.