INDIANAPOLIS --- This is an attempt to explain a very complicated potential tiebreaker scenario as simply as possible, in an effort to show what the Colts need to win the division. Brace yourself (the Jets and Saints winning Sunday didn't help).
The Colts need the Broncos to beat the Bengals on Monday Night Football. - If this doesn't happen, the Texans clinch the division. Why this matters will be explained later.
Week 17: Colts must beat Titans, Texans must lose to Jaguars - This would create an 8-8 tie atop the AFC South, but this is also where it gets complicated. Here's why: with both teams at 8-8, the first four tiebreakers the NFL uses to crown a division champion still wouldn't be good enough.
Head-to-Head: The Colts and Texans split 1-1.
Division Record: Colts win and Texans loss makes both teams 4-2 in the AFC South (both teams will have swept the Titans, split with the Jaguars, and split with each other)
Common Opponent Record (in this case games against the NFC South and AFC East): Colts and Texans both went 3-5 in games against opponents from these divisions. Interesting note - the Colts started 0-5 in these games but beat Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Miami to draw even with Houston.
Conference Record: For the Colts, add games against Denver and Pittsburgh (1-1). For the Texans, add games against Cincinnati and Kansas City (1-1).
3. Strength of Victory Tiebreaker - Behold the 5th tiebreaker to decide a division champion, and the one that will likely decide the 2015 AFC South race. Of the teams the Colts and Texans have beaten this year, which group has more wins? Remember #1 above? Strength of victory is why the Colts need to have the Broncos win (a team the Colts defeated) over the Bengals (a team the Texans defeated). Otherwise, a Bengals win on Monday Night Football will clinch strength of victory for the Texans.
Let's break this hard to comprehend Strength of Victory down:
Texans victories not shared with Colts: Bengals, Jets, Saints
# of wins by these teams (assuming Bengals lose on MNF): 27
Colts victories not shared with Texans: Broncos, Falcons, Dolphins
# of wins by these teams (assuming Broncos win on MNF): 24
Therefore, the Colts need to make up 3 wins in week 17 from teams they've beaten to catch the Texans in strength of victory.
Week 17 Games with Colts - Texans Strength of Victory Implications
Jets @ Bills
Patriots @ Dolphins
Saints @ Falcons
Ravens @ Bengals
Chargers @ Broncos
So needing 3 wins to catch the Texans in Strength of Victory and only having 3 teams that can help the Colts make up wins, it turns out to be pretty simple for the Colts. Indianapolis needs the Dolphins, Falcons, and Broncos all to win plus the Jets & Bengals to lose to pull even in the strength of victory tiebreaker. It is not possible for the Colts to pass the Texans in Strength of Victory at this point.
4. Strength of Schedule: If the Colts tie the Texans in Strength of Victory, the 6th tiebreaker to crown a division champion (Heavens to Betsy) is strength of schedule.
14 of the 16 opponents (AFC South twice, NFC South, NFC East) are the same for the Colts and Texans. So, this would come down to the better winning percentage of the 2 remaining teams on each schedule.
For the Colts: Broncos & Steelers (a combined 20-10, again assuming a Broncos win on MNF or it's over anyway)
For the Texans: Chiefs & Bengals (a combined 21-9, again assuming a Bengals loss on MNF or it's over anyway)
Week 17 Games with Colts-Texans Strength of Schedule Implications
Chargers @ Broncos (Broncos win assumed if we've reached Strength of Schedule)
Ravens @ Bengals (Bengals loss assumed if we've reached Strength of Schedule)
Raiders @ Chiefs
Steelers @ Browns
Reaching this tiebreaker, by definition, means the Colts would be 21-10 along with the Texans in strength of schedule, with the Chiefs and Steelers games to be decided. The Colts would then need the Raiders and Steelers to win to get the Strength of Schedule tiebreaker, or at best, it's only a tie in Strength of Schedule...and the Texans would win the 7th tiebreaker used to determine a division champion - "Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed" (basically point differential of the AFC teams on the Colts and Texans schedules).
In summary, the Colts need to following the win the AFC South:
Broncos beat Bengals (MNF)
Colts beat Titans
Jaguars beat Texans
Bills beat Jets
Dolphins beat Patriots
Falcons beat Saints
Ravens beat Bengals
Broncos beat Chargers
Raiders beat Chiefs
Steelers beat Browns
A moment like this calls for a quote from the great Lloyd Christmas: "So you're telling me there's a chance."