INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Colts coach Chuck Pagano befriended John Harbaugh years ago.
Now Harbaugh's former defensive coordinator in Baltimore is about to become a Ravens fan all over again. After seeing three AFC division leader lose in Week 15, AFC South champion Indianapolis moved back into contention for a first-round bye with Sunday's 25-3 win over Houston. If the Colts and Ravens each win their final two games, Indy can start prepping for a divisional round game at home.
"I always root for those guys, so I guess we'll be rooting for those guys again," Pagano said Monday. "Our focus is on us because it really won't matter if we don't take care of business, but we'll root for those guys, too."
Last Monday, after losing at Cincinnati, the Colts (9-5) appeared to be locked into the AFC's No. 4 seed and were trying to generate some momentum before hosting their first playoff game of the post-Peyton Manning era. But after losses by Denver (11-3), New England (10-4) and Cincinnati (9-5) this past week, the Colts find themselves right back in the seeding chase.
Indy closes out the season with a trip to Kansas City, which locked up a playoff spot with a win at Oakland, and at home against a Jacksonville team that has been much better over the second half of the season. Win both and anything, including a longshot jump to the No. 1 seed, is still possible.
Cincinnati finishes at home against Minnesota and Baltimore. New England visits Baltimore and wraps up the regular season at home against Buffalo. Denver has trips to Houston and at Oakland, and the Chiefs close things out at San Diego.
So if the Colts and Ravens win their last two, Indy have a better overall record than either the Bengals or Baltimore and would win a tiebreaker over New England on better conference record. They're just not looking at it quite the same way.
"Regardless of what happens with anyone else, we want to win the rest of our games and kind of be catching fire here at the right time going into the playoffs," left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. "We want to be playing our best ball regardless of what happens with any other teams."
After six weeks of slow starts and mostly frustrating football, the Colts looked more like the early-season team that jumped out to a big division lead. They led 20-3 at halftime, forced two turnovers, set up another score with a long punt return and produced their most lopsided victory since Sept. 29.
It was easily their most complete game since Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne went down with a season-ending knee injury Oct. 20, and the difference came down to adjustments Andrew Luck & Co. made this week.
Indy started the game with a no-huddle offense, got more receivers involved with a series of screens and was able to run the football in the second half. Darius Butler picked off two passes, too, giving him eight over the last two seasons, and Robert Mathis forced his second safety of the season.
That's how the Colts want things to look each week, not just against the scuffling Texans. "Everybody's jockeying for playoff position," Butler said. "You have the teams that are either fighting in the hunt or trying to climb another seed or two. So we're jockeying for playoff position. We know every win counts, that's what we can control and what we do. Hopefully, other teams fall off pace, but we just want to keep stacking up wins."
Notes: Pagano said offensive lineman Joe Reitz, who started at guard Sunday, was diagnosed with a concussion and will go through the NFL protocol. ... Most of the Colts other injured players are considered day-to-day. Those on the list are: linebacker Daniel Adongo (hamstring), receiver LaVon Brazill (foot), running back Donald Brown (stinger), safety Sergio Brown (groin), fullback Stanley Havili (knee), center Samson Satele (elbow), cornerback Greg Toler (groin). ... Pagano said he is hoping to have defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois (foot) back for the Jacksonville game but noted he could return this week.