AFC Playoff Picture: Titans Week 15 Rooting Guide

Last season the Titans entered Week 15 in control of their own destiny and with an opportunity to claim an AFC South title. They were 8-5, tied with Houston for the division lead, and had two games remaining against their rival to settle the score.

Things didn’t go the way Tennessee hoped in that stretch. A close loss to Houston in Week 15 was followed by another close loss to the Saints the next week. The Titans eventually snuck into the playoffs thanks to a little help from the Jets and an easy win over a Texans team resting their stars.

This year, the Titans enter Week 15 at 9-4, tied with the Colts for the division lead. However, their season series is already settled with each team taking a road victory. That means there will be a lot of scoreboard watching over the next three weeks for both teams as they look to get some help from their rival’s remaining opponents (Detroit, Green Bay, Houston for Tennessee and Houston, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville for Indianapolis). The Titans will hope that their last three games go better this year than they did a season ago.

While the division race and the home playoff game that would come with an AFC South title remains the priority, a wildcard spot is still in play if the Titans fall short in the division. Tennessee remains in really good shape there, currently making the playoffs in 97% of simulations according to FiveThirtyEight and entering Week 15 with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.

So let’s take a peek at what those scenarios look like and what Titans fans should be rooting for this weekend.

Playoff Clinching Scenarios

The Titans already got some help on this front with the Raiders losing to the Chargers in overtime on Thursday night. However, there are still a couple other things that need to happen for Tennessee to officially clinch their second straight playoff berth.

The Titans effectively have two paths to clinching this weekend. One is a win over Detroit combined with a Ravens home loss to the Jaguars (wouldn’t hold my breath on this one). The other, more realistic scenario, is a Titans win over the Lions plus a Dolphins loss to the Patriots combined with the Titans clinching the strength of victory tiebreaker over Miami (which could be done in any of the scenarios laid out below).

I wouldn’t worry myself with trying to unravel all those scenarios. Just know that a Titans win plus a Dolphins loss puts the Titans in the 99.99% clinched range and a Browns win would put them over the top.

As for the division, the Titans cannot clinch the division this week, but a win over the Lions combined with a Colts loss to Houston would leave the Titans needing just one more win or Colts loss to wrap up the AFC South. That would mean either beating the Packers or an Indy loss in Pittsburgh would finish the job.

So with that let’s jump into the rooting guide for Week 15.

Bills at Broncos

I love Saturday NFL football and we have a game that matters for the Titans this afternoon as the Bills travel to Denver. Buffalo currently occupies the 3-seed in the AFC at 10-3, one game ahead of the Titans. The 3-seed is important for two reasons:

  1. It guarantees that team to avoid a rested Chiefs team in the divisional round. The defending champs are obviously the class of the NFL right now and avoiding playing them coming off a bye seems like a good thing.
  2. The 3-seed would have a real chance to host at least two playoff games (maybe even three if they catch a break with the Chiefs getting upset). If Pittsburgh gets bumped in the wildcard round, the 3-seed would host the winner of the 4-5 matchup in the divisional round, and let’s face it, the Steelers look very vulnerable right now.

On paper, this matchup seems like an easy Bills win, but I wouldn’t be so sure. For one, playing in the altitude of Denver is never easy for road teams. But the Broncos are also playing pretty well of late. Over the last month they’ve beaten the Dolphins and Panthers and gave the Chiefs a good scare in KC. The only really poor performance they’ve had lately was the game where they were forced to start a practice squad receiver at quarterback due to COVID contact tracing in their QB room.

The Bills have spent the week getting showered with praise by the national media after their primetime win over the the Steelers and now they’re traveling on a short week to a tough venue to play a team that is playing better than their record would suggest. Doesn’t this feel like an upset spot? It does to me.

A Broncos win would give the Titans a chance to pull back even with the Bills in the race for the 3-seed, and given their head to head tiebreaker, Tennessee would get the edge if both teams finish with the same record.

Texans at Colts

This is the biggest non-Titans game of the weekend obviously. A Colts loss and a Titans win on Sunday would leave Indy needing to win out and get Tennessee to lose out to take the division.

While a Texans win would be a great development, it’s probably unlikely. Houston looked like a team that was giving up last week in Chicago, losing 36-7 and making Mitchell Trubisky look like Patrick Mahomes.

Two small reasons for hope? For one, the Texans still have Deshaun Watson and he alone makes them dangerous, especially with Brandin Cooks returning to give him a legitimate pass catcher this week.

Another reason for some hope is a questionable designation for Colts star DeForest Buckner, the key to Indy’s formidable defense. If Buckner doesn’t play, or is significantly limited by his ankle injury, that could open things up for the Texans offense.

I’d still consider this one a longshot though.

Jaguars at Ravens

A Titans win and a Jaguars win would clinch a playoff spot for Tennessee, but… there is almost no chance of this happening. The Jaguars starting Gardner Minshew gives them some slight glimmer of hope, but this is probably a blowout for the Ravens.

Patriots at Dolphins

A Dolphins loss would also give Tennessee a real chance to clinch a playoff spot and this one has a much better chance of happening. We know Bill Belichick’s track record against rookie quarterbacks and I’m sure the Patriots feel like some payback is owed to Miami after the Dolphins forced them to play in the wildcard round for the first time in over a decade last year.

New England won the first matchup between these teams in the season opener and Belichick has his team playing better of late, winners of four of their last six. The Patriots are also coming off a mini-bye, giving their mastermind coach extra time to prepare. This will be a fascinating matchup.

Browns at Giants

This is the rare game where an AFC team beating an NFC team could actually help the Titans. Why? Because there is a very specific scenario where the Titans, Browns, and Dolphins all finish with a 10-6 record, the Ravens and Colts finish 11-5 or better, and the Titans get left out of the postseason due to tiebreakers. If the Browns win, it eliminates the tiebreaker scenario that leaves the Titans out.

So, as counterintuitive as it seems, if the Dolphins lose and Titans win early on Sunday, Tennessee fans should be pulling for Cleveland in the night game.

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