Because everywhere I go, I seem to get asked if the Titans will make the playoffs, we’ll keep updating our scenarios for the AFC Wild-Card for as long as the Titans have postseason life.
Tennessee took care of its own business by waxing the St. Louis Rams, 47-7 at LP Field, then got the kind of help it needed last week on a couple of fronts when the Miami Dolphins knocked off Jacksonville to further muddy the wild-card waters for that last playoff spot. Also, the Titans and the others in the playoff hunt got some unexpected help Thursday night when Cleveland stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers, putting a major dent in Pittsburgh’s postseason chances.
So with three games now to play, the Titans are in position to help themselves in a potentially major way this weekend when they host the Dolphins at LP Field. To put it in NASCAR terms, the Titans are drafting off the Dolphins in the straightaway, and a win on Sunday could help propel them right into the thick of the race down the final stretch.
The Dolphins are 7-6 by virtue of their win over Jacksonville Sunday, and the Titans can earn a much-needed tiebreaker by defeating Miami this week. Then, of course, they would have to beat the red-hot San Diego Chargers on Christmas night and close with a win at Seattle to finish 9-7.
Let’s take a look at the playoff picture as it currently stands.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-6). They still hold the sixth and final spot for the time being at least, despite losing to Miami. The Titans need Jacksonville to lose twice more in the final three, and with back-to-back games with unbeaten Indianapolis at home and at New England, it is possible.
The Jags finish the year at Cleveland. The key right now, though is what happens Thursday night when the Colts come to town. Ordinarily, Indy, with home-field throughout the playoffs already in pocket, would rest starters, making it easier for Jacksonville (i.e., early exits for Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, etc.).
But this year the Colts are 13-0, and surely they will not let an opportunity at history pass them by, would they?
Baltimore Ravens (7-6). Right now, if I had to guess, this is probably the team that locks down that sixth and final spot. They blasted woeful Detroit Sunday, and would have to lose twice in the final three for the Titans to get past them in the tiebreaker.
Their schedule, at least on paper, says that shouldn’t happen as they host the floundering Chicago Bears before hitting the road at Pittsburgh and Oakland in the final two weeks.
Miami Dolphins (7-6). As we said before, this team holds the key for the Titans’ hopes, which means, of course, that Tennessee must beat the Dolphins on Sunday, and would probably then benefit if the Dolphins were to then win their final games against Houston and Pittsburgh to finish 9-7.
That’s because the Dolphins hold a head-to-head sweep over the New York Jets, who might also finish 9-7, but hold a head-to-head win over the Titans, that would be rendered moot in that situation.
New York Jets (7-6). The Jets defense rose to the challenge against Tampa Bay to keep them in the thick of things. New York needs to finish ahead of Miami in the standings, because of losing the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Things get tougher for them this week, as Atlanta, still trying to stay afloat in the NFC, visits Giants Stadium. After that, the Jets then play at Indianapolis, which could be either the easiest or toughest game on the schedule, depending upon of course if the Colts are resting or playing their starters throughout.
New York then closes with a home game against Cincinnati, which also could be resting players for the postseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-7). With back-to-back losses to Oakland and Cleveland, on the heels of an earlier loss to Kansas City, the Super Bowl champions of a year ago have hit rock bottom at the wrong time. Pittsburgh has lost five straight, but believe it or not, is still in the hunt, despite being on the critical list.
The Steelers host the Packers, who are almost certain to grab an NFC wild-cad spot, this week, then play at home against Baltimore. Both those are must-win games against tough opponents. If they make it that far, then it’s possible that the season-finale in Miami could be for a playoff spot.
Houston Texans (6-7). The Texans finally ended a four-game slide that saw a promising 5-3 season begin circling the drain. Houston defeated the Seattle Seahawks, and still has faint playoff hopes if it can win its final three games.
This week shouldn’t be a problem as they visit the horrible St. Louis Rams. After that, the challenges become greater as they visit Miami and then host the New England Patriots in the regular-season finale. The Texans are like the Titans in that they need to win out and get plenty of help to pass teams above them in the standings.
Denver Broncos (8-5). The Broncos lost at Indianapolis on Sunday, despite a record-setting 21-catch day from Brandon Marshall. Denver would still have to lose its final three games (repeating last year’s collapse) to give the Titans any chance of claiming their wild-card spot.
The schedule eases up too, as the Broncos host the Raiders this week and are at home against Kansas City in the season-finale. There is a tough game at Philadelphia sandwiched in between, however.