Home > NFL > Who is going to get the last playoff seed in the AFC? The Tennessee Titans

Who is going to get the last playoff seed in the AFC? The Tennessee Titans

In Week 9, the Cincinnati Bengals went in to Nashville and beat the Tennessee Titans by a single score.  It would have been fair at this point to write off the Titans entirely.  The Houston Texans pulled away to two games that same week.  The New York Jets went to 5-3.  The Bengals effectively pulled a three game lead in the wild card race from the Titans.  .500 was still a realistic possibility, and a victory for a team that I had pegged to be in the running for the first overall pick (though my QDS projection system was certainly a fan).  But playoffs? That would have been a pipe dream at that point.

The Houston Texans were ravaged by injury at the quarterback position a couple weeks later, which opened the door ever so slightly for the Titans.  The Texans haven’t lost since Week 6.  But very quietly, the Titans have won three out of their last four games, and their only loss was a non-conference loss.  And the Titans are in great shape to have a 6-2 second half.  Based on the makeup of their team, I feel like a strong finish without someone like Kenny Britt able to play, and with Chris Johnson having the first half that he had.

Statistical systems are still really low on the Titans playoff odds for two main reasons: they don’t have the tiebreaker with the Bengals, and they have to go to Houston in Week 17, a game that no system would give the Titans a high probability of winning.  The thing with the first one is this: the Bengals tiebreaker becomes irrelevant as soon as another team reaches 10 wins to tie the Bengals and Titans, something I believe the Jets are likely to do.  And keep your eye on the AFC West, where the Raiders and Broncos both play soft games to end the season in the last two weeks.  If neither drops off the face of the earth these next two weeks, the second place team in the AFC West could easily have 10 victories.  And the Bengals conference record is not all that good.

But that conference record deeply favors the Titans, whether or not they lose this week against the Saints.  A win this week makes them a legitimate candidate for 11-5.  Even if they lose at home, as is expected, the schedule hands them Indianapolis and Jacksonville, which should help them run their conference record to 7-4, considerably ahead of the contenders in the rest of the AFC.

While there is almost no way for the Titans to have a playoff spot sewn up heading into that tough week 17 game, a 9-6 Titans team should be the front runner at that point.  They should be on par (at least) with the Jets and Raiders and Bengals heading into that last game.  And the Texans, of course, may have nothing less to play for.  It is not likely that they will have just 10 wins at that point, because they have 9 wins already.  And because of the Week 1 loss to Jacksonville by the Titans, the Texans will hold any tiebreaker in the AFC South, meaning the last game of the season can only decide the division if the Titans are already within half a game of the Texans.  So while ties favor the Titans right now in the division race, they hurt them in the wild card race.

The Texans will likely be playing for a first round bye in that last weekend, so it’s unlikely that they will rest their starters against the Titans, but consider that if the Titans win that game, the two teams will likely play in the wild card round the very next week at the same location.  So I think you can expect the Texans to hedge their bets a little bit.  It makes a lot of sense to go out and win the game, but if the game is in doubt late, there is a lot the Texans shouldn’t show the Titans.  That changes the probabilities on the outcome of the game significantly.

To be fair to the Cincinnati Bengals, their opponent in Week 17 will be facing a similar dilemma, with the exception that there is a good chance that the Ravens could be playing for the division title.  But they could also have it clinched after Week 16 pending a Steelers’ loss, and merely be sitting tight and playing for playoff seeding like the Texans.

For a number of reasons, I like the Titans’ ability to prevail because of a couple gimme games on the schedule, and because their conference record is a thorn in the side to the playoff hopes of the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets.  Matt Hasselbeck is having the best season by a quarterback in this mini-race in the AFC, and the team has been fortunate to generate very little buzz so far.  And losing to the Saints doesn’t really change the equation at all.  I’m loading up on the stock of teams that are going to be alive in Week 17: the Titans, Raiders, Broncos are better bets to me than the Jets or the Bengals who could be dead in the water in Week 17 with 8 or 9 wins already in the bank.  And because of the conference record and head to head wins, I’ll take the Titans to make the playoffs above all.

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