The going has not been good for the Tennessee Titans since Week 4, plunging from a 3-1 start to a 1-5 record over the last seven weeks. Parity is alive and well in the NFL, as exemplified by the middling play of the teams still involved in the AFC Wild Card race. An 8-8 record may very well be enough to "earn" a trip to postseason action.
During the latter time span, Tennessee's average margin of defeat has been seven points. A loss is a loss, but the Titans' penchant for keeping games close illustrates how slim their margin of error is. The team is in dire need of some sort of spark offensively and a decrease in mental mistakes in every phase of the game.
Despite the Titans letting a 14-point lead slip away in last week's tilt against the Indianapolis Colts, after an inexcusable loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a lot of things went right to keep the team's playoff hopes alive. However, Tennessee cannot simply hope to make it to postseason play if the team doesn't improve its level of play.
The Titans have an important matchup against one of the five other AFC teams with a 4-6 record in the Oakland Raiders. Obviously, in order for the Titans to make a playoff push, they must first handle their own business in Oakland, but let's take a look at some of the things that need to happen to improve Tennessee's playoff standing.
|AFC South Standings|
After dropping two very winnable games against division opponents, the Titans have fallen to 0-3 in division play and are now two games behind the Indianapolis Colts. The Titans' chances of fighting back to win the division crown are slim-to-none, but they do remain existent.
With division tiebreaks coming down to head-to-head and then divisional play record, the Titans will have to beat the Colts in Week 13 among other things. In addition, the Titans will likely have to finish with a better overall record than the Colts to overcome their 3-0 record in divisional play.
At this point in the season it is far too early to start mapping out a terrible finish in Indianapolis. Instead, we'll leave the Titans' hopes of becoming AFC South champs as a discussion for later in the season.
|AFC Playoff Standings heading into Week 12|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||9||1||Chiefs and Broncos tied for division lead|
|6||New York Jets||5||5||Lost to TEN Week 4|
|8||Oakland Raiders||4||6||Leads TEN due to conf. win pct.|
|10||Pittsburgh Steelers||4||6||Lost to TEN Week 1|
|11||Baltimore Ravens||4||6||AFC North Div. tie break gives TEN lead|
|12||Cleveland Browns||4||6||AFC North Div. tie break gives TEN lead|
|13||San Diego Chargers||4||6||Lost to TEN Week 3|
Much like divisional tiebreak rules, the No. 1 rule is head-to-head competition, followed by conference win percentage, common games win percentage and strength of victory. Entering the weekend, the Titans are just one game out of sixth in the AFC.
A win this week over the Raiders would allow the Titans to leapfrog them in conference standings and effectively push Oakland a game back. The No. 6 New York Jets, who the Titans have beaten, head to Baltimore this week in another game that stands to separate the division's wild-card teams.
The No. 7 Miami Dolphins have a tough matchup against the impressive Carolina Panthers. It's pretty straightforward that a Tennessee win combined with losses by the Jets and Dolphins would immediately put the Titans in the driver's seat for their playoff hopes.
Following this week, the Titans will not be playing any other potential wild-card teams. Their remaining schedule is at Oakland, at Indianapolis, at Denver, vs. Arizona, at Jacksonville and vs. Houston. It's clearly a very difficult road that lies ahead with three straight road games—back-to-back games against the first- and second-ranked conference teams—a game against the 6-4 Cardinals and two division opponents that they have already lost to.
It will take a major turnaround for the Titans to accomplish their goal, but they must remain focused and take the first step by defeating the Raiders this week. More important than rooting for any other team to lose is that the Titans need to take care of their own business.
While the chances of Tennessee making the playoffs are slim (Football Outsiders gives the Titans an 8.1 percent chance), the opportunity remains there. Most likely, the season will end unceremoniously similarly to that of the 2012 season and result in five straight seasons with a playoff berth.