Don’t look now, but the Tennessee Titans are quietly sticking around in the AFC wild-card race. And with 3 teams from the AFC North currently in playoff position, it’s almost a certainty that one of them will stumble down the stretch, leaving room for 1 more team. The Titans just might be that team.
The Titans have been led by veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck who has been leading his young team to win after win. He’s been aided by Tennessee’s 17th ranked defense, which is a big-time improvement from last year’s much maligned bunch. The Titans have enough tools to make a run; the question is, will they?
The Titans rank 4th out of 5 teams that are currently within 2 games of each other vying for the 6th seed in the AFC. The Bengals currently hold the spot, followed by the Broncos, Jets, Titans, and the Bills. The Titans will play the Bills tomorrow in a game that could effectively eliminate Buffalo from contention should they lose. After that, they play New Orleans, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and finally Houston.
The task in front of the Titans would seem difficult considering their schedule, but they’ll likely be getting some help from around the league as well. The Broncos have games against the Bears and Patriots just around the corner, the Jets will be closing out the season against the Giants and the suddenly hot Dolphins, and the Bengals are at Pittsburgh this weekend, hosting the Texans the following week before closing the season out against the Baltimore Ravens. Needless to say, the opportunity to make a run is there.
That being said, the Titans have improvements they absolutely have to work on. Chris Johnson has just 699 yards on the season, and that’s including last weekend’s 190 yard performance. It was Johnson’s first outstanding performance of the season, and he’ll need to start making such performances a habit to give his team a very real chance of making the playoffs.
The Titans’ defense also has plenty of room for improvement. While their pass defense has been nothing short of brilliant at times, their rush defense needs some tweaking. They currently rank 22nd in rush defense, and they’re giving up 124.1 yards per game on the ground. The number isn’t to the point of being debilitating, but they’ll have to be able to force teams into being one-dimensional to be able to win 4 of their final 5 games, and yes, that’s the number I believe it will take.
The AFC is shaping into a mosh pit of teams all clamoring for that final playoff spot. The Steelers, who are a game in front of the Bengals, aren’t yet immune to falling off the wagon. The Titans, as I mentioned earlier, probably need to win 4 of their final 5 games to snag a wild-card spot. The most likely scenario for them getting in is by beating Buffalo, dropping their only droppable game to the Saints, beating Indianapolis and Jacksonville, and they’ll be hoping that Houston will have the top seed in the playoffs locked up. If that’s the case, Houston may pull many of their starters in week 17, giving the Titans an easy victory.
If it pans out right, the Titans’ conference record may be good enough to make gains in their tie-breaker against the Jets. They’ve beaten the Broncos, so they’ve already wrapped up that head-to-head tie-breaker, but they were beaten by the Bengals earlier in the season. There’s no question that there’s room for the Titans to make a playoff push. It’s up to them to find a way to do it.