When you finish the season with an 11-5 record in the NFL, you expect to make the playoffs, but that doesn’t always happen and the Indianapolis Colts could find that out the hard way this year.
Since the NFL expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978, there have been exactly 100 teams that have finished a season with an 11-5 record and through 2019, 98 of those teams went on to make the playoffs. The only two teams that didn’t make the playoffs at 11-5 were the 2008 Patriots and the 1985 Broncos and if everything goes wrong for Indy on Sunday, they could also be added to that depressing list.
There’s a good chance the Colts get to 11-5 this year and that’s because all they have to do to pick up their 11th win is beat the Jaguars in a game where they’re currently a 14-point favorite. Even if the Colts win though, they’re not a lock to get in the playoffs. If the Dolphins (at Buffalo), Ravens (at Cincinnati), Titans (at Houston) and Browns (vs. Pittsburgh) also win, that would create a five-way tie at 11-5 for four playoff spots.
In that instance, the Titans would win the AFC South and get the fourth-seed while the rest of the playoff bracket would be set with the Dolphins getting the fifth-seed, the Ravens getting the sixth and the Browns snagging the last slot.
When the NFL decided to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams this season, one of the reasons the league made the decision is so that fewer teams would be snubbed. What the league didn’t plan for was an AFC that’s so top-heavy that it now has a Colts team on the verge of making the kind of history that no team wants to make.
When the 11-5 Broncos missed the playoffs in 1985, it was unexpected, but not that crazy and that’s because only five of 14 teams made the postseason in the AFC (35.7%). This year, 43.8% of AFC teams are getting in, which would make the Colts missing out at 11-5 all the more surprising.
Making things worse for the Broncos in 1985 is the fact that the Browns got in the playoffs that year with an 8-8 record by virtue of winning the AFC Central. In the Colts case, at least they know there won’t be an AFC team with a worse record getting in the postseason over them.
As for the 2008 Patriots, they missed the playoffs in a year where six teams got in from the AFC. This was the team that lost Tom Brady to a torn ACL in Week 1, but then rebounded to go 11-5 with Matt Cassel under center. Like the Broncos in 1985, the Patriots had to sit at home and watch an 8-8 division winner play in the postseason (In 2008, that team was the Chargers, who won the AFC West).
One thing the Broncos and Patriots have in common is that they struggled against eventual playoff teams. The Broncos went 0-3 against eventual AFC playoff teams in 1985 while the Patriots went 1-4 in 2008, so you can easily make the argument that each team had their chance to prove they belonged, just like the Colts did this year. If indy misses the postseason at 11-5, they can blame the fact that they went 1-4 against eventual AFC playoff teams.