AFC Playoff Picture: Titans can clinch both playoffs and AFC South in Week 16

The 9-7 curse is officially over. After finishing with the exact same record four seasons [total landscaping] in a row, the Titans picked up their 10th win against the Lions on Sunday and guaranteed their first double digit win campaign since 2008.

The win helped inch them closer to clinching their second straight playoff berth and an AFC South crown, both of which would, again, be firsts for the franchise since that 2008 season. However, they didn’t get the help they were looking for around the league. A Raiders loss to the Chargers on Thursday night was the one result that went their way as the Colts, Ravens, and Dolphins all won on Sunday, keeping the Titans from clinching a playoff berth officially.

The Titans bumped their playoff odds from 94% to 98% with their win over Detroit, while their AFC South championship odds remained pretty static at 60% with the Colts managing to narrowly escape the Texans for the second time in three weeks.

Tennessee has now won four of their last five games and three of those four wins have come by at least 19 points. It’s a good time for this team to be hitting it’s stride and that’s exactly what appears to be happening over the past month.

AFC South Race

The Titans and Colts remain deadlocked for the third straight week. Both teams now sit at 10-4 with the Titans maintaining the slight edge due to their 4-1 division record compared to Indy’s 3-2 mark.

Tennessee has officially clinched the tiebreaker with the Colts so any combination of wins and losses that result in the two teams having the same overall record will give the division crown to the Titans. That means that the Titans could clinch the division in Week 16 with a win at Green Bay and a Colts loss in Pittsburgh. Even if the Titans lose to the Texans in Week 17 and the Colts beat the Jaguars to even the overall record and division record, Tennessee will hold the edge in strength of victory which will carry them over the top.

So the Titans will know when the Sunday night game kicks off whether or not the division is on the line officially. There is no path to the Colts clinching the division this week, but obviously an Indy win and a Titans loss would leave Tennessee needing help from a 1-13 Jacksonville team who is probably not real interested in winning to grab the division. It certainly feels like this is the week that the division title is decided.

AFC Wildcard Race

The AFC wildcard race is extremely competitive and it might take 11 wins to make the postseason even with the expanded seven-team field. Here are the current standings with the Steelers-Bengals matchup left to be played tonight.

  1. Chiefs (13-1) vs ATL, vs LAC
  2. Steelers (11-2) at CIN, vs IND, at CLE
  3. Bills (11-3) at NE, vs MIA
  4. Titans (10-4) at GB, at HOU
  5. Browns (10-4) at NYJ, vs PIT
  6. Colts (10-4) at PIT, vs JAX
  7. Dolphins (9-5) at LVR, at BUF
  8. Ravens (9-5) vs NYG, at CIN
  9. Raiders (7-7) vs MIA, at DEN

The Raiders are all but eliminated at this point. They’d need everything to break their way over the final two weeks for them to make the playoffs, starting with their big matchup with the Dolphins on Saturday.

For the Titans to clinch a playoff spot, they just need one of the four things below to happen.

  1. Titans win one more game either at Green Bay or at Houston.
  2. Dolphins lose one more game either at Las Vegas or at Buffalo.
  3. Ravens lose one more game either vs the Giants or at Cincinnati.
  4. Colts lose two games both at Pittsburgh and vs Jacksonville.

That means that Tennessee could clinch a playoff spot on Saturday if Marcus Mariota and the Raiders beat the Dolphins (what a storyline that would be). However, even if they don’t get help from their old quarterback, they could get help from the Giants on Sunday or just take care of their own business and win in Green Bay Sunday night.

From a conference-wide perspective, it seems pretty crazy that one of the Titans, Colts, Browns, Dolphins, or Ravens will miss the playoffs. The Dolphins feel like the likely odd team out with the toughest remaining schedule out of that group and tied with the Ravens for the fewest wins, but they still control their own destiny and would be in with two wins.

Titans Potential Playoff Matchups

The Titans still theoretically have a shot at the 2-seed, but it would take a long series of improbable events to happen, starting with a Steelers loss to the Bengals tonight. Realistically, the best Tennessee can do is the 3-seed.

What would they need to get the 3-seed? The Titans would obviously have to win the division first, but then they would also need to make up one game on the Bills. So the most likely scenario for Tennessee to nab the 3-seed is to win out and have Buffalo drop a game either at New England or at home against the Dolphins in the finale. They’d also need for the Steelers not to finish 12-4. If the Bills, Steelers, and Titans all finish 12-4, the Titans will draw the short straw on tiebreakers and get the 4-seed with Buffalo as the 2-seed and Pittsburgh as the 3-seed.

The 3-seed could be of large importance for whichever team winds up with it. Since the NFL re-seeds the playoff field after the wildcard round, the 2-seed and 3-seed are both guaranteed to avoid the 1-seed until the AFC Championship game at the earliest. It’s possible that the 4-seed could avoid that path as well, but they’d need either the 2-seed or 3-seed to get upset in the first round to avoid a divisional round trip to Kansas City.

If the playoffs started today, the wildcard round matchups would be as follows:

  • Bye: Chiefs (1)
  • Dolphins (7) at Steelers (2)
  • Colts (6) at Bills (3)
  • Browns (5) at Titans (4)

The Browns stand out as the Titans most likely first round opponent, but the Colts, Dolphins, and Ravens are all possibilities as well. As are the Bills and Steelers if the Titans drop into a wildcard spot. Given the way these teams are currently playing, I think the team to avoid would likely be Buffalo, despite the result from earlier this season. The Ravens, similarly, appear to be picking up steam as the year wears on.

However, none of these teams are limping into the playoffs at this point. The Dolphins and the Steelers are probably playing the worst football out of this entire field right now, but their elite defenses — currently the top two scoring defenses in all of football — will make them a tough out in a single elimination tournament.

The Titans have put themselves in good shape to make the playoffs though and they could lock down a spot as early as Saturday, which is a nice change for a team that has needed help to sneak in the last couple times they made the postseason.

Comments

  1. Yes, kudos on the total landscaping reference. Two things:

    First, long-time reader of your articles, first time commenter. I’ve always admired your insights into football, your excellent analysis and your grammatical correctness. Thank you!

    Second, I think the Titans are finally ready to take care of business and win out. FTC, it doesn’t matter if they win out too. And I believe they may. The Titans are capable of handling the Packers and I believe they will do that on Sunday. The Titans need to get ahead, stay ahead and keep A. Rogers off the field as much as possible. With the DB situation improving at the right time, it’s too bad we don’t have a couple more pass rushers to pressure the QB. I think we’ll see more blitz schemes against the Packers. But I believe, as you pointed out in your recent article, that an elite offense can overcome a below-average defense.

    1. Appreciate the kind words! I’m looking forward to a heavyweight fight on Sunday night. It’s a chance for the Titans to make a big time statement on a national stage. After the Pro Bowl snubs, I think they might have a little extra fire.

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