INDIANAPOLIS – Before the 24-hour rule had expired, Frank Reich took a peek.
It was the morning after his Indianapolis Colts strengthened their playoff positioning by pushing their win total to 10 with Sunday’s 27-20 dramatic victory over the Houston Texans, and it was time to take the temperature of the AFC.
Reich isn’t one to dwell on how his team stacks up, but neither is he one to simply ignore it.
“You look at it,’’ he said Monday on a Zoom conference call. “Of course you wake up the next day, you see where you’re at.
“You access, you say, ‘OK, now let’s go back to what we do.’’’
And what they do is plow ahead. The second win over the Texans in three weeks – incredibly, each was achieved by the defense recovering a Houston fumble near the goal line in the closing seconds – must be enjoyed but quickly filed away.
Next stop: a Sunday meeting with the Steelers in Pittsburgh that again carries significant playoff ramifications.
And that’s why it’s not a bad idea to pause before diving into the Steelers’ long domination of the Colts – they lead the series 24-6; have won six straight and 20 of the last 23; and are 16-1 in Pittsburgh – and consider the congested AFC playoff picture with two weeks remaining.
The Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh already have locked up postseason berths. That leaves the Colts and four other teams vying for the remaining four spots.
Indy and Tennessee remain tied atop the AFC South at 10-4, but the Titans hold the tiebreaker with a better division record (4-1 to 3-2). The division lead gives Tennessee the No. 4 seed for now and pushes the Colts onto the No. 6 rung behind Cleveland. The Browns get the nod at No. 5 over Indy based on their week 5 win in Cleveland.
Lurking are the No. 7 seed Miami Dolphins and No. 8 Baltimore Ravens, each at 9-5.
Current playoff odds, according to FiveThirtyEight.com: the Titans at 98%, the Browns at 92%, the Colts at 91%, the Ravens at 89% and the Dolphins at 31%.
In short, this is no time for anyone to ease up. And that’s just fine with Reich.
“In a weird way, I’m saying, ‘I’m glad it’s like this,’’’ he said, “because our goals are high, and the way that we get to where we want to go is by worrying about the Pittsburgh Steelers and by worrying about what we’re going to do tomorrow when we watch film and how we’re going to practice on Wednesday, how we’re going to learn to play better fundamental football and play as a team and do the little things right.
“The rest of it takes care of itself. If we’re good enough, we’ll be there. But the way to be good enough is to focus on getting better every day.’’
Reich’s message has found receptive ears all season: keep your head down, prepare for the next game, go play it.
If he needs additional ammunition, consider the fact 10 wins thus far hasn’t been good enough to clinch anything.
Moreover, since 1990, 11 teams with at least 10 wins failed to move on to the playoffs, including the 11-5 New England Patriots in 2008. A team with at least 10 wins has been left out 10 times since ’03.
A look at the closing schedules of the AFC playoff contenders:
- Colts (10-4): at Pittsburgh (11-2), Jacksonville (1-13).
- Tennessee Titans (10-4): at Green Bay (11-3), at Houston (4-10).
- Cleveland Browns (10-4): at New York Jets (1-13), Pittsburgh (11-2).
- Baltimore Ravens (9-5): New York Giants (5-9), at Cincinnati (2-10-1).
- Miami Dolphins (9-5): at Las Vegas (7-7), at Buffalo (11-3).
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.