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AFC playoff picture: Breaking down the Titans potential playoff scenarios

After 11 games, the Titans are the 3 seed in the AFC.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 was very good to the Titans chances of winning the AFC South. With their win over the Colts and the Jaguars loss in Arizona — thank you Blaine Gabbert! — Tennessee moves back in to a tie atop the AFC South Standings at 7-4. They also moved to 3-1 in the division which could be important as I’ll explain later.

Around this time of year, I like to play around with the New York Times’ playoff simulator which gives you the odds of any team making the playoffs and the odds for what seed they might earn. You can mess around with different scenarios to see how the odds change, but right now the Titans make the playoffs in 80% of its simulations. The seed probabilities break down like this:

#1 seed <1%

#2 seed 5%

#3 seed 29%

#4 seed 13%

#5 seed 20%

#6 seed 14%

The Steelers and Patriots seem like virtual locks for the first two seeds and the byes that go with them, but the Titans now have a pretty strong shot at remaining the 3 seed in the AFC at the end of the season thanks to Kansas City’s continued implosion.

Road to winning the AFC South

The Titans and Jaguars are tied at 7-4 heading in to Week 13 and each have 4 games remaining before their rematch in Nashville in Week 17. Thanks to the Week 2 win in Jacksonville, the Titans can make Week 17 a de facto division championship game by being either tied or one game behind the Jaguars coming in. With just 4 games left before that matchup, there aren’t too many combinations where the Jaguars win the division prior to taking the field in Nashville on New Years Eve.

However, there are a few more scenarios where the Titans could have things wrapped up by then IF they beat Houston this weekend and the Jaguars lose to either the Colts or Texans. The division tiebreakers go like this: head to head record, then division record, then record against common opponents. There are more after that but those are the only three that will matter for deciding the division this year because the Titans have already clinched the common opponents tiebreaker.

The Jaguars get the Colts this week in that tacky stadium with all the pools and tarps so a Titans win over the Texans combined with a Jaguars loss to Indy would not only give the Titans a one game lead in the division, but it would also mean that the Titans could clinch the division by carrying just a one game lead in to the final game against the Jaguars. On the other hand, if the Jaguars beat both the Colts and Texans then there would be virtually no chance of the Titans clinching the division prior to Week 17.

Titans remaining schedule: vs HOU, at ARI, at SF, vs LAR, vs JAC

Jaguars remaining schedule: vs IND, vs SEA, vs HOU, at SF, at TEN

I don’t expect any of these games to be layups for either team. The 49ers are not a total pushover despite their 1-10 record, and they will likely be starting Jimmy Garappolo by then. Arizona will be tough on the road as they try to remain on the fringe of the playoff race in the NFC. Indy and Houston are division games which are always dangerous (just ask the Seahawks about the Rams the last few years). I don’t think you can start penciling W’s or L’s for either team in any of these games. This race is wide open right now.

Wild Card Picture

The Titans goal is to win the division, but the wild card presents a nice fall back option. This weekend did the Titans no favors with regards to the wild card race though with the Bills, Bengals, Chargers, and Raiders all winning. As it stands now, the wild card teams would be the Jaguars (7-4) and the Bills (6-5) with the Ravens (5-5) potentially taking over the 6th spot if they beat the Texans tonight. The Bengals (5-6), Chargers (5-6), and Raiders (5-6) all sit just behind that group, and the Texans could join that 5-6 group tonight if they beat the Ravens.

I still think 10 wins is the magic number for the Titans getting in the playoffs. There is a chance they could get away with 9-7, but it would probably come down to tiebreakers at that point and none of us want to deal with that kind of stress around the holidays. Getting to 11 wins virtually guarantees the 3 seed. Getting to 12 wins — possible, but unlikely — would leave the door cracked open for a potential 2 seed. However, that would require a stunning collapse by either the Patriots or the Steelers since both would hold the tiebreaker over the Titans even if they caught them.

The Titans should be shooting for the 3 seed in the AFC and if they reach that mark there is a chance they end up playing the Jaguars in back to back weeks. If not the Jags, we could see the Ravens for the 4th time in 18 years (which is crazy when consider this would only be the Titans 7th playoff appearance in that time span) or the Bills in a Music City Miracle rematch. I tend to think the Chargers are more likely to win the AFC West than get a wild card spot, but they would be the team I’d be most concerned about playing if they were in as a 6 seed.

Its hard to believe there are only five weeks remaining in the regular season. Enjoy the stretch run, and hopefully it ends up with the Titans first playoff appearance since 2008. It’s been a long time since we’ve been this relevant so we might as well enjoy it. After all, once you get in to the playoffs anything can happen in the NFL. Just ask the 2005 Steelers, 2008 Giants, 2010 Packers, 2011 Giants, and 2012 Ravens. All those teams had very up and down regular seasons and then got hot at the right time on their way to a Super Bowl.

For the record, this is NOT a Titans Super Bowl prediction. However, I also don’t think its impossible to imagine them starting to put together some of the pieces on offense and turning in to a much tougher out than anyone would predict them to be right now. Could they also fold like a house of cards down the stretch? Absolutely. We just don’t know right now and that’s the fun part about sports to me. I’m looking forward to enjoying the ride with this team.

Where do you think this Titans season ends?