Indianapolis, IN — As weird as this sounds, the Indianapolis Colts‘ (8-4) odds of making noise in the playoffs this year are on the line when they visit Paul Brown Stadium Sunday to take on the Cincinnati Bengals (8-4). This game between the two teams has huge playoff implications, as both are in a very good position to win their respective divisions.
This game comes down to playoff seeding. As of now, the Colts are the third seed if the playoffs started today, while the Bengals are fourth. Indianapolis holds the tiebreaker due to conference record, but the true head-to-head tiebreaker will be set Sunday afternoon.
Why this game is so crucial is due to who the teams would play in the first round of the playoffs. All four division winners are guaranteed in the postseason and get to host a playoff game; the top two get a first round bye while the third and fourth seeds play the two wildcard teams. The fourth seed takes on the fifth seed or the best wildcard team, and the third seed takes on the sixth seed or the worst of the two wildcards.
This year is ever so critical to be the third seed. With Denver looking like they will now, that makes the Kansas City Chiefs the fifth seed. If Kansas City can get some help, then the Denver Broncos would be the fifth seed. Compare that to a sixth seed that would be likely between one of the following teams: Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers, Tennessee Titans, New York Jets or Pittsburgh Steelers.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that the third seed would have a huge advantage in the first round by hosting one of those mediocre teams. If you can avoid playing the Broncos or the Chiefs in the first round, then you have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. That’s why this game is so huge between the two. With looking at the remaining schedules of both teams, the winner likely gets the third seed.
The Colts host the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars, which are likely wins and have a road game sandwiched in between with the Chiefs. Cincinnati, on the other hand, has just as favorable of a schedule playing at the Steelers next week, then hosting the Minnesota Vikings and the Ravens to close out the year.
That means both teams likely go 2-1 in the final three games with two tough road games, which puts them even. In order for the loser of Sunday’s game to surpass the other, they have to run the table and hope for the winner to lose twice against those opponents, which isn’t likely.
The winner has leeway where they can lose a game in the final three and still wind up being the third seed as they own the tiebreaker even if the loser runs the table. That’s why this game is so big for either side. It also tells us who is a contender and who is a pretender. Both teams have struggled as of late and need to win this game against a playoff foe to determine what they have.
Eric Smith is the Colts Beat Writer for Rant Sports. He’s covered the team the past four seasons and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by the Colts. Follow him on Twitter @ericsportsguru