Did Sunday’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts eliminate the Tennessee Titans from postseason consideration in the AFC?
Well, realistically, yes. Mathematically, no, not exactly. But they do need an Indiana Jones-type maneuver over the season’s final four weeks to wriggle out of their current desperate situation to qualify for the playoffs.
Let’s look at it this way. The Titans’ chances right now, thanks to a conference record that can be no better than 5-7 even in a 9-7 finish, are only slightly better than your chances when you purchase those Powerball numbers every week, thinking you’re going to win the $50 million jackpot.
Still, because inquiring minds want to know exactly what it would take, we are here to walk you through the proceedings — as best we understand it — to see just how the Titans can make the playoffs.
OK, first things first: The Titans have to win out and finish at 9-7. Any other record is not going to get it done. Tennessee has to win its three remaining home games against the woeful St. Louis Rams (Sunday), the Miami Dolphins (Dec. 20) and Christmas night against the San Diego Chargers before going back on the road to close the year in Seattle on Jan. 3.
Those games given away early in the year to the likes of the Houston Texans and New York Jets have come home to roost. There is no margin for error left. Because those games were inside the AFC, they are much more harmful to the Titans’ chances than the blowout losses the Jacksonville Jaguars suffered against NFC also-rans Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers this year.
Currently, the Titans are 5-7 and stand two games out of the final wild-card spot. In front of them in the pecking order are the Jags, who have the current spot based on their 6-2 conference record, followed in order by Baltimore (6-6), Miami (6-6), the Jets (6-6), Pittsburgh (6-6), the Titans (5-7) and the Texans (5-7).
Denver at 8-4 has a more solid grip on the other wild-card spot.
Assuming — and yes, we know what happens when you assume — the Titans can win out to propel themselves into the playoff picture, here are the schedules and what needs to happen with the remaining contending teams in order for Tennessee to get to the postseason.
Jacksonville — Currently holding the sixth and final playoff berth, the Jaguars hold it thanks to a 6-2 conference mark. Jacksonville holds the tiebreaker edge over Tennessee, despite a split of two games, by virtue of a better AFC South record (3-2 vs. 2-4).
That means the Titans have to finish ahead of the Jags outright in the division. And while it would be asking a lot for Jacksonville to drop three of its final four games, consider the schedule: vs. Miami, vs. Indianapolis, at New England, at Cleveland. The key game there is this week against Miami, but more on that in a minute.
Baltimore — The Ravens are still in an OK position, because all six of their wins are against the AFC. Tennessee needs Baltimore to finish no better than 8-8 because the Ravens already have six AFC wins. The Ravens’ loss at Green Bay helps the Titans’ cause, but there are winnable games at home with the Lions and Bears up next, followed by a game at Pittsburgh and closing the season at Oakland.
Miami — This is the team that holds the key for the Titans. Tennessee needs Miami to win at Jacksonville on Sunday and the Titans need to beat the Dolphins on Dec. 20 to put both teams at 7-7 and give the Titans a much-needed tiebreaker over another contender. It’s doubly important because the Dolphins hold the tiebreaker over the Jets (head-to-head sweep), meaning that if the Titans, Dolphins and Jets all finish tied, the Jets would be the first of that group eliminated, rendering their September win over the Titans void in the formula.
After the Titans on Dec. 20, the Dolphins close with home games against Houston and Pittsburgh, another game the Titans probably need Miami to win.
Also, the Titans don’t need the Dolphins to pass the New England Patriots (7-5) and win the AFC East, because the Pats hold the tiebreaker over the Titans with a big 59-0 exclamation point.
New York Jets — The Titans gave away a game against the Jets, and now need New York to finish no better than tied with Miami at 9-7 the rest of the way (as explained above). New York has winnable games in the next two — at Tampa Bay and at home against Atlanta, before closing with two playoff teams, going to Indianapolis and hosting Cincinnati.
The Titans need to hope that the Colts are still playing for 16-0 and that the Bengals are still in the hunt for a first-round bye so they won’t lay down against the Jets.
Pittsburgh — The slumping Super Bowl champs have lost four in a row, but may catch a break Thursday night when they visit the hapless Browns. Of course, they probably thought that against Oakland, too.
After that, it gets tougher with home games vs. Green Bay on Dec. 20, and Baltimore on Dec. 27 before the finale in Miami. Because of the season-opening loss to the Steelers, the Titans need Pittsburgh to finish no better than 8-8.
Houston — Hey, finally a team with whom the Titans already have the edge. It’s even less likely that the reeling Texans, losers of four in a row, make the playoffs than the Titans. After all, a 1-5 division record is telling.
The Texans close the season with Seattle, St. Louis, Miami and New England, and need all the other contenders to finish no better than 8-8 to get to the postseason.
Denver and San Diego — I put the Broncos (8-4) and Chargers (9-3) here because there is an unlikely scenario that if one of them loses out, the Titans would sneak in ahead of them by winning out.
That’s because the Broncos, who did collapse last year in December losing three straight, would finish 8-8 by losing their last four, and the Chargers would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with Tennessee if they folded the tents right now.
So there you have it, Titans fans. You know who to root for and who to root against down the stretch. Oh, if it does play out, then you might want to consider ‘now’ to be the time for a trip to Las Vegas.