AFC wild-card picture: Colts still in chase, but loss a major blow

Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts looks to pass during their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on December 2, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The immediate ramifications of Sunday’s punchless loss at Jacksonville are hardly encouraging to the Indianapolis Colts’ postseason aspirations.

Instead of keeping pace with the Baltimore Ravens in pursuit of at least the final AFC wild-card berth, the 6-0 loss to the Jaguars represents a major step back.

“All of us understand the reality of the big picture,’’ quarterback Andrew Luck said after the game, “but we’re not going to worry about it. We’re going to worry about the next step and for us that’s recovering and trying to go on the road against a division opponent and trying to get a win.

“That’s what the next step is.’’

That next step takes the Colts to Houston. The Texans further tightened their grip on the AFC South with a 29-13 win over the Cleveland Browns. Their team-record and NFL-best ninth-straight victory – it began with the 37-34 overtime win over the Colts in Indy in week 4 – pushed their record to 9-3.

The Colts saw their record even at 6-6 as their five-game winning streak hit a black-and-teal wall Sunday. They were shut out for the first time in Luck’s 88-game career, including the playoffs. They had been 28-0 in Luck’s career, including the postseason, when allowing 18 or fewer points.

Now, it’s going to take a strong closing kick to avoid missing the playoffs in four consecutive seasons for the first time since a nine-year drought that began in Baltimore (1978-86).

A look at the remaining schedules for the teams in pursuit of the second AFC wild-card spot. The 7-5 Ravens are in the driver’s seat, but don’t sleep on the suddenly-resurgent 6-6 Denver Broncos, who have won three straight and have a relatively cushy closing stretch:

  • 7-5 Baltimore: at Kansas City (10-2), Tampa Bay (5-7), at Los Angeles Chargers (9-3), Cleveland (4-7-1). Opponents’ record: 28-19-1.
  • 6-6 Colts: Houston (9-3), Dallas (7-5), New York Giants (4-8), at Tennessee (6-6). Opponents’ record: 26-22.
  • 6-6 Tennessee: Jacksonville (4-8), at New York Giants (4-8), Washington (6-5*), Colts (6-6). Opponents’ record: 20-27 (played Monday night).
  • 6-6 Miami: New England (9-3), at Minnesota (6-5-1) Jacksonville (4-8), at Buffalo (4-8). Opponents’ record: 23-24-1.
  • 6-6 Denver: at San Francisco (2-10), Cleveland (4-7-1), at Oakland (2-10), Los Angeles (9-3). Opponents’ record: 17-30-1.
  • 5-7 Cincinnati: at Los Angeles Chargers (9-3), Oakland (2-10), at Cleveland (4-7-1), at Pittsburgh (7-4-1). Opponents’ record: 22-24-2.
  • 4-7-1 Cleveland: Carolina (6-6), at Denver (6-6), Cincinnati (5-7), at Baltimore (7-5). Opponents’ record: 24-24.

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