Taking a look at where the Titans stack up in the AFC playoff picture with 6 games left to play

It’s hard to believe that we are already 10 games into the 2020 regular season, but here we are. The Titans huge comeback win in Baltimore pushed their record to 7-3 and keeping them tied with the Colts for the AFC South division lead and their playoff hopes very much alive heading into Week 12.

Tennessee’s chances of making the playoffs is now at 79.3% according to Football Outsiders with a 31.6% chance of winning the division. Of course, the Titans looming matchup in Indy will have a ton to say about the division race, so let’s start there.

The AFC South Race

The current division standings are as follows:

  1. Colts (7-3, 1-1 in AFCS)
  2. Titans (7-3, 2-1)
  3. Texans (3-7, 2-1)
  4. Jaguars (1-9, 1-3)

As we’ve known for weeks now, this is a two team race between the Titans and Colts. Currently, Indianapolis has the edge thanks to their head to head win in Nashville in Week 10, but that all can change this Sunday. A Titans win in Indy would split the season series and bump Tennessee into first place at 8-3.

It would also give the Titans a big leg up on the race to secure the division tiebreaker (which seems likely to be a huge factor as we head towards the homestretch). Tennessee getting to 3-1 in the division and dropping the Colts to 1-2 would put enormous pressure on Indy to be perfect in their three remaining division games (two against the Texans and one against Jacksonville). It’s easy to say that they “should” win those matchups, but we see teams around the NFL drop division games they “should” win every year.

Here are the remaining schedules for both teams:

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

The Colts certainly would appear to have a tougher road with trips to the 6-4 Raiders and 10-0 Steelers left on the slate in addition to two games against a still-talented-enough-to-be-feisty Texans team. Tennessee’s toughest remaining test outside of the this week’s head to head matchup is easily their trip to Green Bay in Week 16.

A win over the Colts puts the Titans back in control of their own destiny as they head into the final month of the season. Obviously, being a game up is huge, but so are the implications for a potential tiebreaker if both teams finish with the same overall record. A split of the season series would push division record to the top of the tie-breaking hierarchy and with just one division loss to the Colts two, the Titans would be able to clinch the tiebreaker by simply taking care of business against the Texans and Jaguars. Even if they were to drop one of those two and allow the Colts to match their division record, they could still earn the tiebreaker if one of the Colts remaining wins comes against the Raiders (a loss to the Raiders would mean the Colts would win the common opponent tiebreaker if both teams finish with the same overall record) by virtue of the strength of victory tiebreaker.

A loss leaves them effectively two games back as Indy would clinch the tiebreaker and take a one-game lead in overall record. It’s certainly not impossible to see the Colts dropping two of their final five, but a loss Sunday likely puts the Titans in a position where they need to win out to win the division.

The Wildcard Race

The AFC has a very tightly bunched, but well-defined playoff race at this point. There are nine teams with a credible shot at the postseason and two of them will end up missing out when the season comes to an end. Here is how the playoffs would look today:

  1. Steelers (10-0)
  2. Chiefs (9-1)
  3. Bills (7-3)
  4. Colts (7-3)
  5. Titans (7-3)
  6. Browns (7-3)
  7. Raiders (6-4)
  8. Ravens (6-4)
  9. Dolphins (6-4)

The AFC North and AFC West division races are effectively over at this point, but the AFC South and AFC East are both very much in play with six games to go. Here are the remaining schedules for each team:

  • Steelers: vs BAL, vs WAS, at BUF, at CIN, vs IND, at CLE
  • Chiefs: at TB, vs DEN, at MIA, at NO, vs ATL, vs LAC
  • Bills: vs LAC, at SF, vs PIT, at DEN, at NE, vs MIA
  • Colts: vs TEN, at HOU, at LVR, vs HOU, at PIT, vs JAX
  • Titans: at IND, vs CLE, at JAX, vs DET, at GB, at HOU
  • Browns: at JAX, at TEN, vs BAL, at NYG, at NYJ, vs PIT
  • Raiders: at ATL, at NYJ, vs IND, vs LAC, vs MIA, at DEN
  • Ravens: at PIT, vs DAL, at CLE, vs JAX, vs NYG, at CIN
  • Dolphins: at NYJ, vs CIN, vs KC, vs NE, at LVR, at BUF

A couple schedules here jump out to me. The Raiders have a very easy road ahead of them with home games against the Colts and Dolphins standing as their only remaining games against potential playoff teams. I don’t think they’ll catch the Chiefs, but Jon Gruden’s team is likely going to find their way into the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

The toughest remaining schedule may belong to the Bills, who have long road trips to San Francisco and Denver as well as games against the dangerous Chargers, undefeated Steelers, and perennial AFC East bully Patriots before squaring off with Miami to end the season.

However, looking at the remaining schedules as a whole, I think it’s pretty hard to see any team making the playoffs in this conference with less than 10 wins, even with seven teams getting in this year.

The two biggest games in the AFC this week, by far, are the division rivalry matchups between the Titans and Colts and Steelers and Ravens. Baltimore likely has no path to winning the division at this point, but a loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday night would put their playoff hopes on life support.

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