Titans Rooting Guide: Week 13

‘Tis the season for rooting guides! We are staring down Week 13 of the strangest NFL season of my lifetime and things are starting to get real for the playoff contenders in each conference.

The Titans are in a good spot right now at 8-3, one game ahead of the Colts in the AFC South, and holding a decided advantage when it comes to tiebreakers with Indy.

You can read more about those tiebreakers and the Titans positioning relative to the AFC playoff field here.

However, the job is clearly not done yet for Tennessee. The most important game, of course, will be the Titans-Browns matchup here in Nashville this weekend. Our own Justin Graver did a great job breaking down that matchup here, but there are also some other games around the AFC that will be worth keeping an eye on from a Titans perspective. Those are the games we will cover below.

Colts at Texans

This game is obviously huge for the AFC South race. Using FiveThirtyEight’s playoff prediction model, a Colts win would increase their odds of winning the division from 13% to 20%. However, a Colts loss would drop them all the way down to 4%. A Colts loss combined with a Titans win over Cleveland would push Tennessee all the way up to a 99% chance to win the division and give them a chance to clinch in Week 14.

Why does this game matter so much? The Titans and Colts split their head to head matchups so the next tiebreaker for the division crown is AFC South record. Currently, the Titans are 3-1 in the division while Indy sits at 1-2. If the Colts were to drop to 1-3, Tennessee could clinch the division tiebreaker with a win in Jacksonville next week.

The Colts are 3.5-point road favorites in Houston as of this writing and I think that’s a pretty fair line. The Texans have been playing really well over the last month, winning three of their last four after a terrible 1-6 start. However, they’re going to be without wide receivers Will Fuller (PED suspension), Randall Cobb (injured), and Kenny Stills (released) on offense and their top corner, Bradley Roby (PED suspension) on defense. Meanwhile, the Colts will be getting back DeForest Buckner, Denico Autry, and Ryan Kelly who all missed last week, though they’ll still be without Anthony Castonzo and Bobby Okereke.

The Texans are probably outmanned here, but they’re playing hard and you can never really count Deshaun Watson out of a football game. It will be interesting to see how the Colts respond after last week’s beatdown. Obviously, Titans fans should be pulling hard for the Texans in this matchup.

Bills at 49ers

The remainder of the games on the Week 13 slate will have far less bearing on the Titans playoff odds. Currently at 97%, they are firmly in control of their own destiny and don’t need any outside help to secure a playoff spot (a welcome change from where they’ve been in previous seasons).

For that reason, Bills-49ers is arguably the biggest game of the non-AFC South matchups. If the Titans win the division — again, an 87% probability right now — they will likely be battling the AFC East champ for the rights to the 3-seed in the conference. The 8-3 Bills lead that race right now, but it’s tight as the 7-4 Dolphins remain on their heels.

The biggest advantage of the 3-seed is avoiding the possibility of playing a rested 1-seed in the divisional round of the playoffs. The secondary advantage is that you’re just a couple upsets away from the chance of having a playoff path that keeps you at home for all three rounds before the Super Bowl. If that sounds like an appealing future, you should be rooting for the Niners in this game.

The 49ers are actually slight 1-point favorites playing at “home” in Arizona despite the injury woes that have sabotaged their season to this point. I think the Bills are the better football team, but San Francisco is well-coached and very capable of stealing a game from a more talented roster (as they proved against the Rams last week).

Washington at Steelers

Barring a total collapse over the last five games, the Steelers will be either the 1-seed or 2-seed in the AFC. They’d need to lose four of their last five for the Titans to have any chance of passing them in the conference pecking order and that simply isn’t happening.

However, I think the best realistic scenario for the Titans moving forward is to earn the 3-seed and get the Chiefs to pass the Steelers for the 1-seed. First, that would allow the Titans to avoid the Chiefs until the AFC Championship game. Instead of likely seeing the Chiefs in the divisional round, the Titans would get either the Steelers on the road or a potential home game against the 7-seed if Pittsburgh gets upset in the wildcard round.

Chances are that the road to the Super Bowl goes through Kansas City either way, but putting off that matchup as long as possible is probably in the Titans best interest. A Washington win would probably help that cause.

Cowboys at Ravens

The Ravens are in danger of spiraling out of the playoffs altogether and the Titans should be rooting for that to happen for multiple reasons. Yes, Tennessee has had Baltimore’s number lately, but the Ravens and Colts feel like the most dangerous of the potential wildcard teams and I would much rather host the Dolphins or Raiders in a wildcard round game in Nashville than Baltimore.

More immediately, the Ravens are among the playoff competitors for the Titans if they were to fall out of the AFC South lead. A sixth loss would almost certainly leave them behind Tennessee in the final conference standings.

The Cowboys are terrible and that’s reflected in the line for this game as Baltimore is currently a 9-point favorite at home. Obviously, the ongoing COVID situation muddies the situation. It seems like Lamar Jackson is going to play, but if Trace McSorley starts for the Ravens, that could potentially swing things back in the Cowboys favor.

Bengals at Dolphins

The Dolphins are 7-4, led by a legitimately good defense that is allowing the second-fewest points per game in the NFL through 12 weeks. They deserve real credit for exceeding expectations in Brian Flores’ second season.

However… they have reached 7-4, in large part, due to them facing the easiest schedule in the league to this point. That schedule stays easy for one more week as the Burrow-less Bengals come to town, but after that it turns up several notches with games against the Chiefs, Patriots, Raiders, and Bills coming up in Weeks 14 through 17.

The Titans would benefit from a Dolphins loss for two reasons. One is that it lowers the record of a potential AFC East champ, improving Tennessee’s odds of securing the 3-seed. It also drops another potential wildcard contender a rung, further securing the Titans positioning for locking up a playoff spot.

You can root for an upset here if you want, but it’s highly unlikely. The Dolphins are 10-point favorites at home.

Raiders at Jets

The Raiders are clinging to the edge of the wildcard race right now at 6-5, coming off a disappointing blowout loss to the Falcons last week. This week, they get a layup against the winless Jets, but if the Vegas crew that showed up in Atlanta last week shows up in New York on Sunday, they are capable of losing this game.

A Raiders loss helps the Titans playoff odds slightly as another member of the clump of AFC wildcard contenders. However, like the game above, this one feels like wishful thinking.

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