Titans remain in playoff contention
With the incredibly low lows and high highs through which the Tennessee Titans have vacillated this season, talk of the playoffs at first blush seems far-fetched.
FOXSports.com NFL analyst Brian Billick ranks the 4-6 Titans at No. 24 in this week’s power rankings and they sit at 0-2 in the AFC South. But a quick glance at the math does not make the feat look insurmountable as the Titans come out of their bye week on Sunday and visit division rival Jacksonville, which is tied for the league’s worst record at 1-9.
Currently, the Titans stand in ninth place in the AFC, putting them just three spots and two games out of a wildcard berth. Furthermore, they hold a victory over Pittsburgh (6-4), currently the holder of the second wildcard spot, and have a game remaining with Indianapolis (6-4), the other wildcard team which already owns a victory over the Titans with another meeting in the offing.
“That’s encouraging, knowing that if you start winning and you put a winning streak together, that you have six weeks left,” Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak said on Monday of his team’s proximity to the wildcard teams in a video posted on the team’s website. “We have to win a lot of football games, but if we do we’re right in the middle of this thing . . .
“What happens around us, you need the right teams around us to lose along the trail, but also we have to find a way to win two games in a row, three games in a row. We haven’t won a division game yet, we have three here in a row so we have to start winning.”
Going on such a roll would be one way to make up for a season that so far has fallen short of hopes for the Titans.
“They’re disappointed in the season,” Munchak said of the players. “We all are. We are, too. We’re not happy with 4-6 just like they’re not happy with their record. Players don’t quit on stuff. They want to play, they want to win. They want to stay in the league.”
To be sure, opportunities await on the schedule. The Titans need to start with wins in both games against Jacksonville, which seems to be rejuvenated with Chad Henne’s play at quarterback last week in a 43-37 overtime loss to Houston.
From there, to have any chance at making the playoffs the Titans would seem to have to defeat Indianapolis on the road on Dec. 9, as the Colts stand in front of them — not an easy feat. The Titans have not defeated the Colts in Indianapolis since 2006 and are 1-8 at Indianapolis over the past nine seasons.
The other must-win is on Dec. 17 at LP Field when the Titans host the New York Jets (4-6), one of the few teams in the NFL whose play has proved as mercurial as the Titans’.
That leaves a win in one of the two remaining games against two of the best teams in the NFL: Dec. 2 at home against Houston (9-1), ranked as the league’s best team in Billick’s rankings, or at Lambeau Field on Dec. 23 against the NFC North-leading Packers (7-3).
Both are tall orders, but beating the division rival Texans seems like the better possibility than does a win over Green Bay so late in the season on the fabled “frozen tundra.”
For one, Jacksonville just came within a hair of upsetting the Texans, proving the unpredictability of division games. Teams are so familiar with each other and that, at times, can help to close a competitive gap. Secondly, the game is at home.
“That’s the thing about this league, people get so caught up in records,” Munchak said of Sunday’s Jaguars-Texans game. “There you have 1-8 vs. 8-1 and the 1-8 team should’ve won.”
It is by no means an easy path and to accomplish it, the Titans will have to buck some historical and season-long trends. If they can, it will be a credit to Munchak, who held the team together after losing to Chicago 51-20, and to the players, as well.