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Firmly in AFC Playoff race, Colts return from bye week focused on present, not postseason picture

The Colts are 5-5 and sit ninth in the AFC standings after their Week 11 bye. 

The Colts re-convened at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Monday with an opportunity to make a playoff push – but with a fresh focus that isn't necessarily on their standing in the AFC. 

Lying ahead in Week 12 is a home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which will kick off a seven-game sprint to the end of the season for the 5-5 Colts. After the Buccaneers (4-6), the Colts face the Tennessee Titans (3-7), Cincinnati Bengals (5-5), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4), Atlanta Falcons (4-6), Las Vegas Raiders (5-6) and Houston Texans (6-4). But the Colts' attention is less on the playoff race and more on what it'll take to stay in that picture going forward. 

"I think the biggest thing for us is control what we can control, (that's) what I told the team," head coach Shane Steichen said. "Let's be 1-0 each week and not think about the future. Let's focus on Tampa Bay and then we'll worry about the next one when it comes."

Still, there's a legitimate opportunity here for the Colts. The AFC playoff odds, per DVOA, from teams other than the four current division leaders (Kansas City, Baltimore, Jacksonville and Miami):

  1. Cleveland (89.1 percent)
  2. Pittsburgh (68.0 percent)
  3. Houston (59.9 percent)
  4. Indianapolis (32.5 percent)
  5. Buffalo (32.5 percent)
  6. Los Angeles (12.1 percent)
  7. Denver (11.8 percent)
  8. Cincinnati (7.8 percent)
  9. Las Vegas (3.2 percent)
  10. New York (3.2 percent)
  11. Tennessee (1.3 percent)
  12. New England (0.2 percent)

ESPN's FPI doesn't include every team still contending in the AFC playoff race, but has the wild card race shaping up like this:

  1. Cleveland (82 percent)
  2. Houston (63 percent)
  3. Pittsburgh (52 percent)
  4. Buffalo (40 percent)
  5. Indianapolis (32 percent)
  6. Los Angeles (21 percent)

These aren't numbers, though, the Colts are particularly concerned about. 

"You start looking at percentages and it's kind of confusing, too and it changes every week," defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo said. "So I kind of don't pay attention to the playoff standings until obviously, the last couple of weeks when it really comes down to it."

Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie was a part of playoff pushes with the Buffalo Bills, who reached the postseason in four of his five seasons there (2019-2022). Over the bye week, McKenzie started scoreboard watching a little bit, knowing on a young team his experience navigating late-season playoff pushes will provide valuable insight for his teammates. 

"We've got a lot of young guys on the team and they don't really understand one loss, one win could change your whole scenario, the playoff picture, things like that," McKenzie said. "I try to watch it as close as possible now than I ever had because – like I said, we're a young team but we have some ability and a lot of chances to go and make a playoff run, try and get to the playoffs the best way we can. I'm watching it this bye week like this team loses, this is where it puts us or if this team wins, this is where it puts us. I've been paying a lot of attention to it. I don't know about other guys, but I'm pretty sure it's been in the ear like, 'Hey, we can do this.'"

The Colts still have games remaining against the Bengals (Week 14), Steelers (Week 15) and Texans (Week 18) that could carry major playoff implications. Cincinnati, like the Colts and so many other teams this season, will have to adjust to life without their starting quarterback, as Joe Burrow sustained a season-ending right wrist injury against the Baltimore Ravens last week.

The balance now for the Colts is to be aware of the stakes of their remaining seven games, starting Sunday against Tampa Bay, but not hyper-focused on their position in the standings or what their odds of reaching the playoffs are. 

"I've been a part of the playoffs a couple years now and it's pretty fun and it's good to be in it, in the thick of things," McKenzie said. "I feel like for me, I'm always going to be motivated to try to get to the playoffs and try and win the championship like everyone else. For everybody on the team, everybody sees that now, considering how the AFC is going and the playoff picture is looking. So, I feel like everybody is on board and everybody has to always be on board because this is the NFL. You never know what's going to happen. I feel like everybody is in-tune to what's going on and ready to try and make a playoff run."

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