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Colts Mailbag: AFC South tiebreaking scenarios, Jake Browning's breakout game ahead of Week 14 matchup with Cincinnati Bengals

The Colts mailbag is back for Week 14 with questions on if the Colts can become AFC South champions in the event of a three-way tie, what to expect from Bengals quarterback Jake Browning on Sunday and if the team's tight ends will become a bigger part of the offense down the stretch. 


The Colts Mailbag is back! readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for the next Colts Mailbag by clicking here. I'll also be checking the comments on our Official Colts Podcast YouTube page and will answer some listener questions in here, too.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Brendan Brinkman, Chandler, Ariz.: Since we were swept by the Jaguars we need to win one more game than them in order to take the division from them. Who would win the division if the Jaguars, Texans, and Colts all have the same record after Week 18?

JJ Stankevitz: Currently, the Colts and Texans are 7-5, while the Jaguars are 8-4. Let's say, for these purposes, all three teams finish with a 11-6 record. The Jaguars and Texans already split their season series while Jacksonville won the season series with the Colts, and let's say the Colts win the season series with the Texans (the two teams play at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 18).

In this case of a three-way tie, head-to-head records would not be the tiebreaker, so it'd move on to divisional record. The Jaguars are currently 4-1 against the AFC South with a game remaining against the Tennessee Titans; the Colts are 3-2 and still play the Texans, while the Texans are 1-2 and still play the Titans twice and then the Colts.

For the tiebreaker to move on to common opponents – the next tiebreaker level in the NFL's progression – the Jaguars, Texans and Colts would all have to finish with the same AFC South record. That is not possible, though, as even if the Texans beat the Titans twice, they'd enter Week 18 with the same intradivisional record (3-2) as the Colts.

And even if the Colts won in Week 18 and the Jaguars lost to the Titans, the AFC South records would then look like:

  • Jaguars: 4-2
  • Colts: 4-2
  • Texans: 3-3

In this scenario, the Texans would be eliminated from winning the division and the tiebreaker would revert back to head-to-head records, which would go to the Jaguars on the strength of their wins over the Colts in Weeks 1 and 6.

So that's a long way of explaining why the Colts cannot win the AFC South if they finish with the same record as the Jaguars, no matter if the Texans also finish with the same record.

Meaning: The Colts have to be two games better than the Jaguars over the final five weeks of the season to win the AFC South. Remaining schedules for the Colts, Jaguars and Texans:

Table inside Article
Week Colts opponent Jaguars opponent Texans opponent
14 @ Bengals (6-6) @ Browns (7-5) @ Jets (4-8)
15 vs. Steelers (7-5) vs. Ravens (9-3) @ Titans (4-8)
16 @ Falcons (6-6) @ Buccaneers (5-7) vs. Browns (7-5)
17 vs. Raiders (5-7) vs. Panthers (1-11) vs. Titans (4-8)
18 vs. Texans (7-5) @ Titans (4-8) @ Colts (7-5)

Jerry Hatt, Oxnard, Calif. After Jake Browning's amazing performance over the Jaguars, how is the defense preparing to slow him down? It is obviously wonderful that Grover Stewart is back in the lineup but EJ Speed is now questionable. I would think pressure on Browning with more blitzing?

JJ Stankevitz: You're not wrong, Jerry, to think blitzing an inexperienced quarterback like Browning might yield a good day on defense. Except: The Jaguars sent blitzes on 15 of Browning's dropbacks – and he carved up the Jacksonville defense, completing nine of 13 passes for 168 yards (12.9 yards/attempt) with a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. He was only sacked once and scrambled another time.

Browning, of course, was fantastic when the Jaguars didn't blitz, too – he went 23 of 24 for 186 yards, though his average depth of target went from 6.0 yards beyond the line of scrimmage when blitzed to 3.2 yards when not blitzed, so plenty of those were high-percentage completions.

Essentially, if you're looking for a flaw in Browning's game based on what he did on Monday night against Jacksonville, you probably won't find one.

So usually, at this point, the best way to disrupt an opposing quarterback on a heater is to pressure him with four and not blitz. The Jaguars only pressured Browning on four of 25 dropbacks when they didn't blitz, and Browning completed two of three passes for five yards with a sack on those plays.

The Colts enter Week 14 10th in the NFL with 156 pressures without blitzing, and are fourth with 31 sacks when not sending an extra pass rusher. Meanwhile, the Colts have sent blitzes on the second-fewest plays (143) in the NFL, ahead of only the San Francisco 49ers (126) and right behind the New York Jets (146) – notable since the 49ers and Jets are not only among the NFL's top defenses, but they play their fronts similar to the Colts, too.

As for Speed, we'll see what his status is – he didn't participate in practice on Wednesday but hasn't been ruled questionable yet. We'll have that update on Friday afternoon here on

Harold Miller, Bedford, Ind: With the emergence of Alec Pierce, do you see the Colts going to a pass-first offense?

JJ Stankevitz: Entering Week 14, the NFL average is passing on 61 percent and running on 39 percent of offensive plays. The Colts are a little off that average with a pass-run ratio of 60/40. But where they're below league average is on deep balls – the Colts have thrown it deep on about 10 percent of their passing plays, below the league average of 11.4 percent. 

Having said that: If Pierce continues to emerge in down the stretch, that could lead to more deep passing attempts – but I don't know if that would automatically turn the Colts into an offense geared more toward throwing the ball. The more opponents have to respect Pierce's ability to catch 50-yard passes, the fewer players can be committed to stopping the run, which could open things up for Zack Moss and (when he returns) Jonathan Taylor. 

That's all to say an effective deep passing game could make Steichen even more unpredictable as a play-caller, which would be to the offense's advantage.

Mark Carter, Indianapolis: The Colts have good size at the TE position. It seems like they all have good hands and catch the ball really well also. I know injuries have played a part of them not using them in games. Do you think coach will start using them in a more productive role in the offense? He had Dallas Goedert in Philly, while we have Ogletree, Big Mo, Granson. I think we could have big play potential like the other teams that utilize there TEs. What are your thoughts?

JJ Stankevitz: It'll depend on the flow of the game, but we've seen flashes from all of those guys plus rookie Will Mallory, who's played nearly half his season snaps (40/93) over the Colts' last two games. Granson had a phenomenal back-shoulder snag and an explosive gain on a razzle dazzle play against the Titans, while Alie-Cox's fourth-and-one catch-and-run against the Buccaneers was key in the Colts' Week 12 win, and Ogletree is averaging a tick over 16 yards per reception this year. 

If Steichen and the Colts' coaching staff think a certain game plan can be augmented by using their tight ends more, they'll certainly do it – and this group has shown the ability to get the job done when asked this season.

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