The Tennessee Titans are quietly in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs, with Matt Hasselbeck having a solid year in his first season with the team and Chris Johnson beginning to gain steam after a very rocky start to the season.
If the playoffs started today, the 6-5 Titans would not be included in the playoffs, but they are behind several teams that could end up struggling in the last five games of the season. Let's look at several different ways the Titans could find a way to sneak into the playoffs.
The most obvious path to the playoffs is winning the AFC South title, which would mean catching the 8-3 Houston Texans in the last five games of the season. A few weeks ago, this would have seemed to be a very tough task, but with the Texans being down to starting their third-string quarterback, the Titans certainly have a chance.
However, the Texans' schedule isn't overly difficult. After facing the Falcons next week, they face Cincinnati, Carolina and Indianapolis, three games that they will likely get at least two wins out of. However, the final week of the season is against Tennessee, and while Houston routed Tennessee in their first visit, it may be hard to do so with their third-string quarterback.
The good news for Tennessee is that they have a fairly soft schedule down the stretch, so they may be able to catch up to Houston by Week 17, especially if the Texans struggle. Although the Titans do face New Orleans in a couple of weeks, they face three very beatable teams: the Bills, Colts and Jaguars. I think that the Titans and the Texans could both easily find themselves at 9-6 heading into the final game of the year.
If the Titans win the division, it will likely have to come down to that final game of the year. However, even if they don't win the division, they still may be able to snag a wild card spot. At the moment, the Bengals and the Steelers hold the two wild card spots. While I doubt that they will catch the Steelers, I do think that they have a chance to catch the Bengals, who at 7-4 face several difficult opponents, including Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Houston.
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Another team that the Titans will have to watch out for is the Jets. With an identical 6-5 record, they have a soft schedule as well, as they play teams like Kansas City, Washington and Miami, and may come from behind to snag a wild card spot.
Basically, the Titans have to hope that two teams ahead of them, the Bengals and the Texans, struggle down the stretch, which is certainly in the realm of possibility, considering the Texans' quarterback woes and the Bengals' difficult schedule. However, the Titans are also going to have to keep pace with a team like the Jets, who share the same record as them, but also share a similarly easy schedule.
It is going to be difficult for the Titans to sneak into the playoffs, but they are an underrated team with plenty of talent, especially on offense, to make this an interesting race all the way to the end. At this point, it looks like that Week 17 matchup between the Titans and the Texans is going to be a very big game.