For the second straight season, the Tennessee Titans traveled to Houston with something extremely important to play for.
Last season, the AFC south division crown was on the line, as the Titans needed to beat the then 4-11 Texans to secure their first home playoff game in 12 years. This season, the message somewhat similar, but with some key differences.
Instead of playing for the division title — a title they clinched last week courtesy of a blowout win over the Miami Dolphins — the Titans were playing for something more significant.
The heavily coveted top seed in the AFC playoff field, and the much needed first round bye.
With two important pieces of playoff gold there for the taking, the Titans simply needed to take care of business against the lowly Texans, and the treasure would be theirs.
It wasn’t pretty, and there were some anxiety inducing moments that occurred throughout the game, but the Titans plundered their target destination and now possess the two things that hold so much importance to them.
“We’re the number one seed [in the AFC playoffs],” Kevin Byard said. “These things don’t happen that often, so it’s good that we went out there and took advantage.”
With the Titans now securing the top seed in the AFC for the playoffs, the road to Super Bowl 56 has become more “easier” than previously thought.
For starters, the top seed gives the Titans an “easier” opponent to battle once the divisional round of the playoffs begins in two weeks. Out of all the playoff teams that are scheduled to play next weekend, the lowest remaining seed that emerges unscathed will have the honor of traveling to Nashville to take on a rested Titans team.
While the notion of the Titans’ opponent being “easy” is nowhere near true — take the Titans’ 2019 playoff run in which they dismantled the second and third seeds en route to the AFC title game — the luxury of avoiding any potential sleeping giants in the divisional round in massive.
We know the Titans would play any team, at any place, and at any time.
They’re a team full of hard nosed, team first guys that love the challenge of slaying any opponent that stands in their way.
But despite this team’s record, their inconsistency at key spots stands as potential early playoff exit hazards. So avoiding any sort of team with a stick of dynamite tied to their back — at least during the divisional round — has to be seen as a bit of a win.
This team has proven they can win, maybe not in a high flying, explosive manner, but in a way that’ll leave you extra sore when you wake up the next morning. So maybe the idea of avoiding an explosive squad doesn’t apply to this tough group of players and coaches.
But the playoffs are full of careful calculations and high stake decisions, so you can;t be too cautious when it comes to these type of scenarios.
However it plays out for the Titans, they’re in a good spot to handle their business. This playoff field is about as wide open as we’ve seen in recent years. Anybody, from Kansas City, to Buffalo, and even to Cincinnati, all have equal shots to make a run and represent the conference in the Super Bowl next month.
It’s going to be tough sleddin’ for Mike Vrabel’s group, but I don’t think they’d have it any other way.
The next time you’ll see the Titans play, is the weekend of January 22nd, when the divisional round of the NFL playoffs begin.
You’ll see a rested, rejuvenated, and energized Titans team ready to take on the obstacles that will stand in the way of their ultimate goal. That notion alone should inspire a lot of confidence in this team, but when you imagine all the adversity this team has faced and how hungry they’ve remained throughout their turbulent times, that same confidence should only increase.
Their jumbled schematic tricks on the defensive side of the ball have the potential to slow down any offense this league has to offer. And although this unit can be susceptible to shorter passes underneath, and their tackling as a unit can be hit or miss at times, the positives still outweigh any potential negatives this unit possesses.
Their ability to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks with just four guys, an improved secondary that’s starting to come into its own, and a linebacker group that has a respectable amount of option, both inside and outside. This unit has it all and shouldn’t run into too many mismatches.
Offensively, this team has shown how dangerous it can be with their full assortment of weapons and skill players. With A.J. Brown and Julio Jones back, with Derrick Henry waiting in the wings, suddenly this offense becomes one that could send some fear into the rest of the AFC playoff field.
This team has the pieces, they have the mindset, and they have the attitude and mantra to beat almost every single team that’s comfortably positioned in this mess of a playoff field.
If they can avoid backbreaking mistakes — which they haven’t been able to consistently do so this year — then this team has a good shot to make a deep run, something the highly touted 2008 team wasn’t able to do.
It’s that simple.
For now though, a week long break before Mike Vrabel and the rest of his team begins their playoff journey, perhaps their most optimistic playoff voyage since their dominant 2008 year.