Forget what the records say. The Tennessee Titans are the AFC South’s worst team. Plain and simple.
Until we see something different, that is the sorry state of affairs for the local NFL franchise.
There is, after all, no better measuring stick than head-to-head competition and right now the Titans are 0-3 in intra-division contests with one loss each to Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville. There is no one else.
The latest of those defeats came Sunday against the Jaguars, a team that had one win in 10 games overall.
Those Jaguars started a backup quarterback for the first time this season, featured its third-string running back for much of the contest and lost both of its starting cornerbacks to injury along the way. They also were reeling from a hard-fought overtime defeat a week earlier.
The Titans, of course, entered the game refreshed and ready after their bye week and with all the good vibes created by the 34-point victory over Miami the last time they played.
So naturally Jacksonville won 24-19.
Mathematically, I suppose, the Titans are still in the AFC playoff hunt. Realistically, there is no hope because of this defeat. Anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding him or herself.
The first step toward becoming a playoff team (Tennessee has not been one since 2008) is to get the edge over the teams you play most often — the teams in your own division.
A year ago, the first with Mike Munchak as head coach, the Titans went 3-3 against the AFC South, but that record was not nearly as good as it looked.
First, the victory over Houston came in the final week of the regular season when the Texans had nothing at stake, rested many top players and opted not to try and force overtime when it had the opportunity to do so in the final minutes.
Second, the losses to Jacksonville and Indianapolis were not completely offset by the victories. The Titans lost to Jacksonville in Week 1 and the Jaguars lost nine of their next 11. The Colts unquestionably were the NFL’s worst team in 2011 but managed to defeat the Titans 27-13 in mid-December.
We all know the any-given-Sunday aspect of the NFL, but those were games Tennessee should have won. To lose them, meant that the Titans lost ground to virtually all of the other teams that played those two last year.
Recall that Tennessee finished 9-7 and missed out on a playoff spot because of a tiebreaker. Just one more win against either of those two pitiful teams and a place in the postseason was assured. The Bengals, by the way, beat each by 10 points.
Jacksonville is one of the NFL’s worst teams this season. Sure, it has half as many wins as the Titans overall but when you’re measuring one against the other, face-to-face, it’s the Jaguars who are right now on top.
What’s worse is that the Colts and Jaguars both have first-year coaches, which means they ought to be going through growing pains — the kind the Titans faced in 2011 under Munchak and his staff. Logic dictates that those teams are going to get better from here, and the fact that they’re already ahead of the Titans makes it difficult to imagine what it’s going to take for this team to catch up.
Of course, there’s not much time to think about it.
Houston comes to town Sunday. Then it’s a trip to Indianapolis. That means the opportunity to stem the tide is at hand. Or the Titans can just fall farther behind in a division that no one thinks is the league’s most competitive.
To be the worst of that bunch is pretty bad.