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NFL Playoff Picture: Titans fans rooting guide for Week 15

The Titans can regain control of their own destiny this week with a win and a little help from their friends.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The playoff picture in the AFC remains muddy with six teams realistically in the mix for two playoff spots. Those six teams are the Steelers (7-5-1), Ravens (7-6), Colts (7-6), Dolphins (7-6), Titans (7-6), and Broncos (6-7). Either the Steelers or the Ravens will almost certainly win the AFC North (barring a miracle run from the Browns) while the other four teams are left to compete with the AFC North runner up for the final AFC wildcard spot.

The main focus for the Titans, of course, will be getting a third straight win against the Giants in New York, but there are several other games that will have a major impact on the AFC playoff race. Each of those games is listed below in chronological order along with a proprietary grading scale to score the importance of each matchup to the Titans playoff hopes:

5 Derrick Henry Stiff Arms = Must-have game, Titans cannot advance without this game breaking the right way.

4 Derrick Henry Stiff Arms = Nearly must-have game, Titans need a near miracle to get in if this happens.

3 Derrick Henry Stiff Arms = Pretty important, but there are still realistic routes to the playoffs available if it goes the wrong way.

2 Derrick Henry Stiff Arms = Would be nice to have it, but it’s not that big of a deal.

1 Derrick Henry Stiff Arm = Doesn’t really matter which way this game goes.

Chargers at Chiefs

Time: Thursday at 7:20 PM CST

Line: Chiefs -3.5

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 1

This game has the least impact on the Titans playoff odds. In fact, it really doesn’t impact their odds directly at all. The Chargers already have 10 wins and the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Titans so they’re officially out of reach at this point.

The Titans would likely prefer for the Chargers to win this AFC West division matchup though. At 10-3, the Chargers have the 5 seed virtually locked up, but they still have games against the Ravens and Broncos in Weeks 16 and 17 and those are two opponents that the Titans would like to see the Chargers beat. If the Chargers were to lose to the Chiefs tonight, Kansas City would clinch the AFC West and the Chargers could theoretically be locked in to the 5 seed as early as this weekend — depending on the results of other games — leaving them little reason to make a big effort in their final two games.

Texans at Jets

Time: Saturday at 3:30 PM CST

Line: Texans -6.5

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 3

I know some are already handing the division title to the Texans, but as long as there is still a chance for a home playoff game I’m going to root for it. The Texans are very clearly the better of these two teams, but road games in the NFL are never truly a sure thing (just ask the Steelers). The Jets are still trying to win games. They very nearly beat the Titans on the road two weeks ago and then came from behind to beat the Bills in Buffalo last week. While I would certainly be surprised if they pulled off the upset, it’s not outside the realm of possibility with the Texans traveling on a short week.

Should the Texans falter in this one, it would truly open the AFC South back up. The Titans would be able to move to within one game of Houston with a win over the Giants and would hold the tiebreaker for the division crown if both teams finish 10-6. Here is the tiebreaker process for ties within a division:

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs). 1-1 (tie)
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division. Titans 4-2, Texans either 4-2 or 3-3 depending on if they lose to the Jaguars (tie or Titans win)
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games. Titans 9-3, Texans 7-5 (Titans win)

The Texans finish at the Eagles (who just lost Carson Wentz for the season) and then at home against the Jaguars so it’s still hard to see this happening, but a Jets win this weekend would at least put the heat on.

Browns at Broncos

Time: Saturday at 7:20 PM CST

Line: Broncos -4.5

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 2

The Titans already control their own destiny against the Broncos thanks to the 49ers upset win over Denver last week so this game only matters if Tennessee loses again. However, Titans fans should still be rooting for the Browns to win this one to help keep the dream of a possible 9-7 playoff spot alive. After the Browns, Denver plays at Oakland and then home against the Chargers to round out the season.

Cowboys at Colts

Time: Sunday at 12:00 PM CST

Line: Colts -2.5

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 3

The Titans also control their own destiny against the Colts thanks to their Week 17 matchup in Nashville, but fans should still be rooting for the Cowboys to win this game. If the Colts lose to the Cowboys and Giants over the next two weeks while the Titans beat the Giants and Redskins, the Week 17 game would be meaningless for Indianapolis. It could even contribute to a scenario where the Titans have clinched a playoff spot before that game even kicks off. It’s an unlikely scenario, but a Dallas win would keep the possibility alive for another week.

Buccaneers at Ravens

Time: Sunday at 12:00 PM CST

Line: Ravens -6.0

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 3

The Titans only need two things to control their own destiny from this point forward: a Dolphins loss and either a Ravens loss or a Steelers loss. This game represents a chance to check off one of those items. The Bucs are a deeply flawed team, but they can be explosive on offense from time to time and the Ravens largely rely on a ball control offense to grind out their opponents. If Tampa Bay can jump out early, they could have a chance in this game.

After this game, the Ravens will travel to LA to play the Chargers in Week 16 before returning home to face the Browns in the final week of the season. Those are both tough matchups so Baltimore doesn’t necessarily have to lose this game, but it would be a very nice bonus if they did.

Dolphins at Vikings

Time: Sunday at 12:00 PM CST

Line: Vikings -8.0

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 4

This is the most important game of the weekend for the Titans besides their own. Miami’s miracle against the Patriots kept them even with the Titans at 7-6 in the race for the 6 seed, but of course they own the tiebreaker thanks to their Week 1 head-to-head win.

This trip to Minnesota is easily the Dolphins toughest remaining game. After this one, they return back home to host the Jaguars and then travel to Buffalo for Week 17. If Miami somehow pulls off a win against the Vikings, Tennessee will be left relying on a pretty significant upset to jump them in the standings.

Patriots at Steelers

Time: Sunday at 3:25 PM CST

Line: Patriots -1.0

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 3

As mentioned above, the Titans just need the Dolphins and either the Ravens or Steelers to lose one more game to be able to control their own destiny. The Steelers schedule might make them the more likely of the two AFC North teams to drop a game. They host the Patriots this weekend in a matchup that New England has dominated recently. The Pats have won 5 straight and 9 of the last 11 against Pittsburgh including playoff games. If the Titans take care of business and the Patriots make it 6 straight, the Titans would jump the Steelers in the wildcard standings.

The Steelers visit the Saints in Week 16 before returning home to face the Bengals in Week 17 after this one so there is still a chance the Titans get some help even if Pittsburgh pulls out a rare win against the Patriots.