The 2023 NFL playoffs are nearing, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts remain locked in a three-way tie atop the AFC South at 8-7 heading into Week 17 after they all lost Sunday.
The Jaguars sit in the driver seat, as they would win the division by simply winning their remaining two games, but they are on a four-game losing streak and QB Trevor Lawrence is dealing with lingering injuries.
The Texans, who have been without rookie QB C.J. Stroud for the past two weeks, and the Colts could be looking at a play-in game for the playoffs — or the division crown if the Jags slip up — in Week 18 as they are set to face off in the season finale.
Let’s take a look at each team’s path to an AFC South title and the playoffs.
Remaining schedule: vs. Panthers (Sunday; 1 p.m. ET, CBS), at Titans (Jan. 7)
Chances of winning the division: 42.7%
Chances of making the playoffs: 79.0%
What scenario needs to happen to make the playoffs: Houston and Indianapolis play each other in Week 18, so if the Jaguars can put together a competent four quarters and beat the Carolina Panthers (2-13), they’ll have a chance to win the AFC South or, if they lose, earn a wild-card berth by beating Tennessee in Week 18.
What’s the key to making the playoffs: The Jaguars have to quit making unforced errors on a weekly basis. That’s what coach Doug Pederson and multiple players said has been their biggest issue this month. Turnovers, penalties, blown assignments, missed kicks — Pederson uses the same list every week. They are tied for the league high in turnovers this month (10), and kicker Brandon McManus has made just 20% of his field goal attempts (1-for-5).
Another major issue is the Jaguars getting dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage. So, essentially, the key is completely changing what has become their identity and breaking the current skid on all sides of the ball. Lawrence’s health (sprained AC joint) is also something to watch heading into this weekend. — Michael DiRocco
Remaining schedule: vs. Raiders (Sunday; 1 p.m. ET, CBS), vs. Texans (Jan. 7)
Chances of winning the division: 13.3%
Chances of making the playoffs: 47.6%
What scenario needs to happen to make the playoffs: The Colts wasted what leeway they had by losing Sunday to the Atlanta Falcons. That means the most direct route to the postseason now is to win out and reduce the possibility of surprises. Indy is in direct competition with Houston, making the season finale a potentially massive matchup. The Colts already have a win over Houston this year, which could come into play in a tiebreaking scenario if they were to sweep. The Colts also have a tiebreaker over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What’s the key to making the playoffs: The Colts have been all over the map in the past three weeks. They offset a lopsided win over the Steelers in Week 15 with double-digit losses to the Bengals and Falcons in Weeks 14 and 16. They appear to be in an identity crisis and need to find their footing. Are the Colts overachievers who have run out of steam? Or do they have more fight in them? They can start by tightening up their line play (offense and defense), which was surprisingly ineffective against the Falcons. — Stephen Holder
Remaining schedule: vs. Titans (Sunday; 1 p.m. ET, FOX), at Colts (Jan. 7)
Chances of winning the division: 10.7%
Chances of making the playoffs: 37.7%
What scenario needs to happen to make the playoffs: The Texans still control their playoff destiny even if they don’t win the division. Houston has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, so if the Texans win their last two games, the tiebreakers favor them for a wild-card spot.
What’s the key to making the playoffs: The key is having a healthy C.J. Stroud for the last two games. The offense without the rookie quarterback lacks juice — it is averaging 17.5 points without Stroud compared to when it was top 10 in scoring before the Week 14 game that Stroud left because of a concussion. As Stroud remains in the protocol, there has been more optimism of him being cleared to play than in the previous weeks, but if he can’t go, the defense isn’t healthy enough to carry the team to two wins. — D.J. Bien-Aime