AFC Playoff Picture: Titans Rooting Guide for Week 16

Growing up, my family’s Christmas traditions created some of my favorite memories. My parents would wrap gifts and put them under the tree and my brother and I would spend the weeks leading up to the big day trying to guess what might be in each box.

We would wake up early on Christmas morning and go wake our parents. My mom would go get her coffee and “check for evidence of Santa” and then let us know when it was safe for us to go into the living room where we’d find a half-eaten cookie, a half-empty glass of milk, stuffed stockings, and a few presents that weren’t under the tree after our careful inventory from the night before.

We’d start with the stockings — usually magazines, toothbrushes, a pack of football cards — and then beginning opening presents one by one, always saving Santa’s gifts for last because those were always the biggest.

So in honor of that tradition, I’m going to give you the Titans Week 16 Rooting Guide in that same order, starting with some stocking stuffers.

Stocking Stuffers

Jets over Browns

The Jets pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NFL history last week when they knocked off the Rams and the Titans would love to see them pull it off two weeks in a row as they host the Browns. Cleveland, like Tennessee, sits at 10-4 and suddenly has a real shot at winning the AFC North, a division that appeared to be locked up just three weeks ago.

A Browns loss does nothing for the Titans odds of making the playoffs, but it could help their opportunities for seeding tremendously. In fact, there is a path to the 2-seed that opens up if the Jets are able to pull off a miracle two weeks in a row. Here’s what the Titans would need to see that dream become reality:

  1. Titans win out against Green Bay and Houston.
  2. Steelers lose out against Indianapolis and Cleveland.
  3. Browns lose to the Jets.
  4. Bills lose one of their final two against either New England or Miami.

That’s a lot that has to go right, but the Jets over Browns is the least plausible piece of that puzzle. An upset in Gotham would keep hope for this improbable scenario alive.

Jaguars over Bears

One byproduct of the Jets win last week was the Jaguars jumping up to the pole position for the number one draft pick and the rights to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. While the buzz about Lawrence is certainly warranted, I don’t know that he’s a total lock to become the next Andrew Luck as many project him to be.

However, I do know that the Titans would probably like that experiment to take place in another division. Dealing with Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence four times a year in addition to the Colts solid nucleus is not an appealing thought.

A Jags win over the Bears, combined with a Jets loss to the Browns would move the Jags back to the number two spot with just one week left to go.

Patriots over Bills

The Bills remain just one game ahead of the Titans in the AFC playoff picture, but unlike the Steelers, Tennessee holds the head to head tiebreaker over Buffalo. That means that if the Titans can make up the one game difference in record over the final two weeks, they could leapfrog the Bills in playoff seeding.

Unfortunately, the Steelers free fall has muddied the waters here. In the event of the Titans, Bills, and AFC North champion all finishing 12-4, the Titans would get the short end of the tiebreaker and end up in the 4-seed. The best case scenario would see the Steelers win this week (more on that later), Bills lose, and Titans win. That would bump the Titans into the 3-seed and put the Steelers back ahead of Buffalo for the 2-seed.

A Patriots offense that has scored 15 points total over the last two weeks doesn’t inspire much confidence. Nor does a red hot Bills team that has won four straight games by double digits, but you never know in these division rivalry games.

Gifts Under the Tree

Raiders over Dolphins

This is one of three games that could clinch the Titans playoff berth this weekend. A Raiders win gets the Titans in regardless of any other outcomes.

It originally looked like Marcus Mariota was going to get the start in this game, but now it seems as if Derek Carr has made a swift recovery and will start this matchup. With the Raiders playoff odds dangling by a thread, expect to see a highly motivated Las Vegas team on Saturday. Whether that will be enough to get past a tough Dolphins squad featuring the best scoring defense in football remains to be seen.

Giants over Ravens

Like the game above, this is one that would clinch a playoff berth for the Titans if the Giants are able to come away with the win.

The Giants appear set to get Daniel Jones back at quarterback and they’re still playing for a shot at the NFC East crown (believe it or not) so I’d expect them to come out guns blazing. The Ravens, however, are among the hottest teams in the league right now after winning three straight and seeing their offense find it’s footing for the first time all season. Baltimore is — and deserves to be — pretty big favorites at home in this one, but an upset would seal the deal for Tennessee.

Santa’s Gift

Steelers over Colts

A few weeks ago this looked like a good opportunity for a Colts loss, but with the Steelers in shambles coming off a Monday night loss to the 3-8-1 Bengals, well… things aren’t looking quite as promising from a Titans perspective. Pittsburgh’s offense has been held under 20 points in each of their last four games, including a lackluster effort against a COVID-hobbled Ravens team.

Meanwhile, Indy continues to trend up, winners in six of their last seven games with the one loss coming against Tennessee. Playing in Pittsburgh against a good Steelers defense that is probably fired up after being embarrassed on Monday night by Ryan Finley won’t be a cakewalk though. I still have some real questions about the Colts offense and it’s not like we haven’t seen Philip Rivers meltdown against teams that get consistent pressure before. I fully expect this game to be a low-scoring slog that comes down to which aging quarterback makes the fewest mistakes.

If the Colts do lose this game, that would give the Titans a chance to clinch the division on Sunday Night Football.

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