A quick check of the rosters and coaching staffs of the four teams that are alive in the NFL playoffs this weekend reveals that the New York Jets are the most Titans-connected team playing in the conference championships.
The Jets have four players who have been with the Titans in some capacity.
The two most notable are middle linebacker Ryan Fowler, who was a starter for Tennessee prior in 2007, signing as a restricted free agent from the Dallas Cowboys, before losing the job last year to Stephen Tulloch. Fowler was released by the Titans in final cuts, and signed with the Jets as a free agent. Fowler has three tackles in eight games for the Jets this season as a backup.
Also, a pair of former Titans tight ends are with the Jets, including Ben Hartsock, who was in Tennessee in 2006 and 2007. Matthew Mulligan was also in Tennessee earlier this year in camp after being on the Titans practice squad in 2008.
Hartsock, reprising his Titans role as primarily a blocking tight end, caught just one pass this season, but it was for a 2-yard touchdown against, of all teams, Tennessee back in September. Mulligan, who has played in five games for New York, also has one catch for two yards this season.
Finally, backup cornerback Marquice Cole spent considerable time on the Titans practice squad in 2007. Cole has seven tackles in 11 games for the Jets this season.
By contrast, the only player with a Titans connection on the Indianapolis Colts roster is starting defensive tackle Antonio “Mookie” Johnson, who spent part of ’08 on the practice squad and was Tennessee’s fifth-round pick that year.
Johnson has now established himself as a starter on the Colts defensive line rotation with 34 tackles and one sack.
In the NFC, the most obvious Titans tie is Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has helped revitalize the New Orleans defense. Williams spent eight years in the Titans/Oilers organization and was the team’s defensive coordinator for two seasons, including the Super Bowl season of 1999. Williams left Tennessee in 2001 to become head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
The Saints defense, under Williams direction, has become quite opportunistic, finishing plus-11 in turnover ratio and returning five interceptions for scores in the regular season.
Saints backup wide receiver and kick returner Courtney Roby was a third-round pick of the Titans in 2005 and played in Tennessee for two seasons. While he has just one catch for six yards, Roby has developed into a dangerous kickoff return man, something the Titans currently lack. He averaged 27.5 yards per kickoff return this season on 42 opportunities, including on kick returned 97 yards for a touchdown.
The one team that seemingly has no direct Titans connections that is still alive this weekend is the Minnesota Vikings. The closest connection there is that Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was a teammate of Coach Jeff Fisher when both played for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s.