To play or not to play?
That is the decision facing the Tennessee Titans as they travel to Indianapolis Sunday to face the Colts having home-field advantage already locked up.
With a bye week already built in, the Titans are now forced to walk the fine line between not risking any players to unnecessary injuries versus maintaining a sharp edge heading into the playoffs.
While the Titans certainly don’t want to lose a key player for the postseason run, the last thing they want to do is to get rusty with several starters going nearly two full weeks between meaningful snaps. Recent history has shown that that is one of the quickest formulas for an early playoff exit.
“I think we keep it consistent. I think we continue to do the same things that have brought us this far 15 or 16 weeks into the season,” nickelback Vincent Fuller said. “We just have to go on the field and try to get better and see where we made mistakes at and try to correct those, so that they don’t happen again. And when we go out there on the football field, just play football.”
In recent years, it seems the No. 1 seed in the NFL playoffs has been more of a curse than a blessing, and the week off has sometimes been seen as taking the steam out of the best team in the regular season.
The Titans themselves were stunned by the Baltimore Ravens 24-10 back in 2000, the only time other time they have had the top seed for the postseason.
Teams like last year’s New York Giants, the 2006 Colts and the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers all won the Super Bowl coming from playing on wild-card weekend.
Since 2000, only the 2003 New England Patriots won it all as a top seed. The Titans, however, won’t look at it as some sort of millstone pulling them under. They are happy to have the league’s best record at 13-2.
“History is what it is, but this is the 2008 playoffs, and we have to focus on that,” Fuller said.
Receiver Justin Gage looks at it as an advantage.
“[It’s good] just knowing that now teams have to come through Nashville in order to have an opportunity to make it to the Super Bowl,” Gage said. “We have the opportunity to stay at home and play in front of our fans, who have been doing a great job this year, and we’re excited about that.”
Safety Michael Griffin, who had two interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger Sunday to help the Titans lock up home field, agreed, but said it doesn’t really mean anything yet.
“We realized we’ve played all season to try to get into the playoffs, taking it step by step and the next step was to try to clinch home-field advantage,” Griffin said. “This is a big win, because we got home-field advantage, but we’ve just got to continue to play. We know when we put that ball down that both teams are playing for the same thing. It doesn’t matter where it’s at.”
The team that wins usually is the team that carries momentum into the postseason, and Titans coach Jeff Fisher said Sunday’s convincing 31-14 pounding of Pittsburgh was a momentum-builder for his club.
“We needed to play well against a good football team. We talked about this game being a momentum game for us,” Fisher said. “We had to build some momentum going into the playoffs. Now, that momentum continues.”
Which is precisely why Fisher explained that the Titans will do their best not to have a letdown against the Colts Sunday, even though a few players, including quarterback Kerry Collins, could be on a limited schedule.
Safety Chris Hope, a former Steeler, who lost as a No. 1 seed and later won it as a sixth seed while in Pittsburgh, perhaps put it best after the Titans win that clinched home-field advantage.
“This win is great, but it doesn’t make you the winner automatically,” Hope said.