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Week 17 scoreboard watching guide: Panthers, Chiefs and who to root for to improve Colts' AFC playoff odds

Most importantly, the Colts need to beat the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium to improve their chances of making the playoffs. But there are several key games in Week 17 that will impact the Colts' odds of reaching the postseason – potentially as AFC South champions. 

While the Colts' singular focus is on beating the Las Vegas Raiders this week, fans in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium or at home will have plenty of opportunities for scoreboard watching before ringing in the new year. All nine Week 17 games featuring at least one AFC team will have an impact on the Colts' playoff odds – be it small (like Dolphins at Ravens) to significant (like Panthers at Jaguars).

Any and all scoreboard watching is, of course, contingent on the Colts leaving downtown Indianapolis with a win on Sunday. Per the New York Times, the Colts currently have a 54 percent chance to make the playoffs and a 24 percent chance to win the AFC South.

A win over the Raiders would increase the Colts' playoff odds to 72 percent; a loss would drop them to 27 percent.

But if your focus understandably drifts away from Sunday's Colts-Raiders game, here's a guide to scoreboard watching in Week 17 with a look at how each AFC game could impact the Colts' chances of making the playoffs for the first time since the 2020 season:

Thursday, 8:15 p.m.: Jets (5-10) at Browns (10-5)

Best outcome for Colts: Jets win

Impact: Low (+1% to make the playoffs)

The Browns thumped the Jets, 37-20, on Thursday night to improve to 11-5 and clinch at least the AFC No. 5 seed. This game had a minimal impact on the Colts' playoff odds, though there is a possibility the Browns rest some or all of their starters in Week 18 against the Bengals – which could be a massive game for the Colts' chance of making the postseason – if the Baltimore Ravens clinch the AFC North with a win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. 

Sunday, 1 p.m.: Panthers (2-13) at Jaguars (8-7)

Best outcome for Colts: Panthers win

Impact: High (+9% to make the playoffs)

A Colts win coupled with a Jaguars loss would mean the Colts would enter Week 18 leading the AFC South. While the Panthers put a season-high 394 yards of total offense in a 33-30 Week 16 loss to the Green Bay Packers, they've yet to win a game on the road in 2023. The Jaguars have lost four consecutive games and quarter Trevor Lawrence is banged up, but it'd be a major upset if Carolina were to win in Jacksonville on Sunday.

Also, if the Jaguars lose and the Colts and Texans both win, Week 18's Colts-Texans game would determine the winner of the AFC South.

Sunday, 1 p.m.: Titans (5-10) at Texans (8-7)

Best outcome for Colts: Texans loss

Impact: High (+8% to make the playoffs)

A Texans loss coupled with a Colts win would mean the Texans, even with a Week 18 win in Indianapolis, could not pass the Colts in the AFC standings because the Colts would own the conference record tiebreaker (7-5 to 6-6) in this scenario.

Sunday, 1 p.m.: Patriots (4-11) at Bills (9-6)

Best outcome for Colts: Bills loss

Impact: High (+10% chance to make the playoffs)

The Bills, even with a narrow win over the Los Angeles Chargers last weekend, are surging and feel like one of the AFC's top teams. But the Colts would own a tiebreaker over the Bills based on conference record (currently, the Colts are 6-4 against the AFC and the Bills are 5-5) if the two teams finished with the same record. As we'll get into with the Bengals, the Colts' best-case wild card scenario is having the same record as at least three other teams, which would revert the tiebreaker to conference record (unless it's the Bengals and Browns, who own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Colts, but that would only knock the Colts out of the playoffs if the Bills are the No. 5 seed at 11-6). 

Sound complicated? It is. 

The short version is a Bills loss in Week 17 to the Patriots or Week 18 to the Dolphins would greatly benefit the Colts.

Sunday, 1 p.m.: Dolphins (11-4) at Ravens (12-3)

Best outcome for Colts: Dolphins win

Impact: Low (<+1% chance to make the playoffs)

The Ravens can lock up the AFC North and No. 1 seed with a win; the Dolphins clinch the AFC East with a win but would still need to beat the Bills in Week 18 to secure a first-round bye. If the Ravens lose and the Browns win, the AFC North and a first-round bye would be up for grabs in Week 18, meaning the Ravens and Dolphins likely would not rest their starters against the Bengals and Bills – two teams directly in wild card contention with the Colts. 

Sunday, 4:05 p.m.: Steelers (8-7) at Seahawks (8-7)

Best outcome for Colts: Steelers win

Impact: Low (+1% chance to make the playoffs)

The impact of this game will be higher if the Bengals win. Currently, the Colts hold tiebreakers over the three 8-7 teams (Houston, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati) because the Steelers and Texans own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bengals, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Colts, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Steelers and Texans.

As long as the Colts *and* Steelers (or Bills) finish with the same record as the Bengals, the Colts will make the playoffs. But if the Colts and Bengals finish with the same record, the Bengals make the playoffs based on their Week 14 win over the Colts. Which brings us to...

Sunday, 4:25 p.m.: Bengals (8-7) at Chiefs (9-6)

Best outcome for Colts: Chiefs win

Impact: Medium (+3% chance to make the playoffs)

There's more context here than the isolated probability listed above. If the Colts win, their playoff odds jump to 72 percent; if the Bengals then win, their odds drop to 65 percent. But if the Colts win and the Bengals lose, their odds go up to 75 percent. And, crucially: If the Colts win and the Bengals lose, the Colts would have a win-and-in game against the Texans in Week 18.

If the Colts and Bengals win, the Colts would need to beat the Texans and get help in Week 18. Most likely, that would come from the Titans beating the Jaguars (giving the Colts the AFC South) or the Browns beating the Bengals (giving the Colts, at least, the AFC No. 7 seed) or the Dolphins beating the Bills (giving the Colts, Bengals and Bills 10-7 records, earning the Colts the AFC No. 7 seed over the Bills).

We'll have a clearer picture of all this after Sunday's games.

Sunday, 4:25 p.m.: Chargers (5-10) at Broncos (7-8)

Best outcome for Colts: Broncos win

Impact: Low (+1% chance to make the playoffs)

The only way this game impacts the Colts is in case they need to make the playoffs with a 9-8 record, with a similarly 9-8 Broncos team jumbling things up and pushing tiebreakers to conference record, in which the Colts would still have an advantage.

The perfect weekend

Scenarios in which the Colts win and would enter Week 18 with a greater than 90 percent chance to make the playoffs:

  • Jaguars, Bills, Texans and Bengals lose: 98 percent
  • Bills, Texans and Bengals lose; Jaguars win: 96 percent
  • Jaguars, Texans and Bengals lose; Bills win: 96 percent
  • Texans and Bengals lose, Jaguars and Bills win: 91 percent

Interested in playoff tickets? Visit the Colts Playoff Central for the most up-to-date information.

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