AFC Playoff Picture: Titans still control their own destiny despite embarrassing loss to Browns

Yesterday went about as poorly as it could have for the Titans on pretty much every level. Tennessee got boat-raced by the Browns in the first half, trailing 38-7 before the break, and having their defense exposed as the liability that it is in the most embarrassing possible manner.

But that was just the start of it. Just as the massacre as Nissan Stadium was mercifully drawing to a close, the Titans got more bad news. On second and goal from the Colts 2-yard line, Deshaun Watson fumbled a snap, couldn’t pick it back up, and saw Indy fall on it to preserve a 26-20 win over the Texans in what was a critical AFC South game.

Then Gregg Williams decided to send a zero blitz while up 28-24 over the Raiders with just 13 seconds left, allowing Derek Carr to hit Henry Ruggs for a 46-yard game-winning score. That win advanced the Raiders to 7-5 and kept them as a viable threat to Tennessee for a potential wildcard spot if the Titans fail to hold off the Colts in the South.

Meanwhile, the Patriots won, getting to 6-6 and declaring themselves as wildcard contenders. Miami won to get to 8-4 against a stinky Bengals team. And the Jaguars blew a chance to beat the Vikings, losing in overtime and maintaining their hopes of getting Trevor Lawrence.

Basically, everything that could go wrong… did. So with that rosy backdrop, let’s check in on the Titans standing in both the division title race and the wildcard/seeding race in the AFC.

AFC South Race

The Titans and Colts are now even at 8-4 overall, but the Titans currently hold the tiebreaker thanks to their 3-1 division record while the Colts sit at 2-2. FiveThirtyEight gives Tennessee a 63% chance to win the division, down significantly from their 87% estimate before yesterday’s action, but still rated as the favorites to hold on in the South.

Both teams have return matchups with Houston and Jacksonville left in the final four weeks, but Indy’s non-divisional opponents are a little tougher than Tennessee’s by my estimation.

  • Colts: at LVR, vs HOU, at PIT, vs JAX
  • Titans: at JAX, vs DET, at GB, at HOU

This weekend’s games will be telling for tiebreaking purposes. Tennessee can get to 4-1 in the AFC South if they can win in Jacksonville and would clinch at least a tie in the division record tiebreaker. That would mean that either a Colts loss to Houston in Week 15 or Jacksonville in Week 17 would give the Titans the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Colts.

The next rung below division record in the NFL’s tiebreaking procedures is record against common opponents and that tiebreaker will be decided on Sunday by the Colts-Raiders matchup. That is the only remaining non-common opponent for these two teams. If the Raiders beat the Colts — which would obviously be a good thing for the Titans overall — it would mean that the Colts would win the tiebreaker if they finished with both the same overall record and division record as Tennessee.

If the Colts beat the Raiders, that tiebreaker would be locked in as a draw, pushing us down to the next tiebreaker, which is conference record. The Titans are currently 6-4 in the AFC while the Colts are just 4-4. That could flip depending on the results of the next four weeks obviously, but right now, the Titans are in pretty good shape if we get this far in the tiebreaking procedure.

Below are the Titans odds to win the division based on the various possible outcomes from Week 15:

  • Titans W, Colts L: 81%
  • Titans W, Colts W: 63%
  • Titans L, Colts L: 34%
  • Titans L, Colts W: 24%

Obviously, it’s absolutely critical for the Titans to take care of business against a Jacksonville team that is still playing hard and has hung with two playoff contenders in the past two weeks. If they don’t, they’ll cede control of the division to the Colts, regardless of whether Indy beats the Raiders.

AFC Wildcard Race

With the Steelers, Bills, and Ravens still left to play in Week 14, this picture could change a bit before next week’s games kick off, but this will give a good idea of where things stand right now:

  1. Steelers (11-0) vs WAS, at BUF, at CIN, vs IND, at CLE
  2. Chiefs (11-1) at MIA, at NO, vs ATL, vs LAC
  3. Bills (8-3) at SF, vs PIT, at DEN, at NE, vs MIA
  4. Titans (8-4) at JAX, vs DET, at GB, at HOU
  5. Browns (9-3) vs BAL, at NYG, at NYJ, vs PIT
  6. Dolphins (8-4) vs KC, vs NE, at LVR, at BUF
  7. Colts (8-4) at LVR, vs HOU, at PIT, vs JAX
  8. Raiders (7-5) vs IND, vs LAC, vs MIA, at DEN
  9. Ravens (6-5) vs DAL, at CLE, vs JAX, vs NYG, at CIN
  10. Patriots (6-6) at LAR, at MIA, vs BUF, vs NYJ

A 49ers win over the Bills tonight would move the Titans back into the 3-seed, but obviously, their grip on both the 3-seed and a playoff spot is extremely tenuous right now with seven AFC teams at 8-4 or better. Another 9-7 finish will not be enough to make the postseason this year.

Week 14 will be a huge week in the AFC playoff picture though. With matchups between the Colts and Raiders, Dolphins and Chiefs, and Browns and Ravens on tap, this will be a big week of movement in the standings.

The Titans remain in good shape overall to make the playoffs despite the loss to the Browns, but this week’s game against Jacksonville is as close to must-win as you can get right now. Dropping a division game against a 1-11 football team — even if that team is playing pretty decent football right now — would put the Titans in a spot where they would need help from other teams over the final three weeks to win the division. Depending on the results of the other matchups, it could even knock them out of the wildcard altogether, leaving them looking for help to just make the playoffs.

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