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NFL Playoff Picture: Titans fan rooting guide for Week 16

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Looking at games that could help the Titans in Week 16 along with a discussion of seeding possibilities.

NFL: International Series-Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Chargers Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans most likely path to the playoffs is pretty simple at this point. They just need to win their final two games and get one loss from either the Ravens or the Steelers and they’re in. It’s as simple as that.

The Titans will kick off the NFL’s Week 16 slate of games with a nationally televised home matchup against the Redskins on Saturday afternoon. That means we will have the result of that game before any of these other matchups start. The Titans can still theoretically make the playoffs with a loss to the Redskins, but they need a LOT of help to do it. Realistically, this is a must win game for Tennessee. Washington is also still lingering on the fringe of the playoff discussion in the NFC at 7-7 so this game is basically a playoff game for both squads.

With that, let’s get to a break down of the other games that matter to Titans fans in Week 16 using our proprietary rating scale below.

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.

Ravens at Chargers

Time: Saturday at 7:20 CST

Line: Chargers -4.5

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 4

Titans fans leaving Nissan Stadium on Saturday night will want to rush to a television to catch this game immediately afterwards. A Titans win combined with a Ravens loss on Saturday would mean that the Titans would enter Week 17 without needing any outside help to make the playoffs regardless of what happens in Sunday’s games. They would simply have to beat the Colts — yeah, yeah, I know — and they would be in.

This is where the Chargers winning against the Chiefs on Thursday night really helps the Titans. LA is now firmly in the mix for not just the AFC West division title, but also the 1 seed in the AFC. They will be highly motivated as the difference between a first round bye with home field advantage throughout and going on the road in the first round is pretty huge.

The Ravens are also playing for their playoff lives. Baltimore currently trails Pittsburgh for the AFC North title by a half a game and are leading the wildcard race by a tiebreaker over the Colts and Titans. If both AFCN teams win out they will both make the playoffs — Steelers as the division winner and Ravens as the second wildcard team — but if one stumbles there is a very good chance that they miss the playoffs altogether.

The Chargers are red hot right now, winners in 10 of their last 11 games and coming off a huge road victory against the Chiefs in Arrowhead. However, they are also a little banged up. Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler both missed the Chiefs game and star wide receiver Keenan Allen left the game with a hip injury. It sounds like LA will probably get at least one of their running backs back this week, but Allen seems like a long shot to play.

The Ravens are also playing well of late. Lamar Jackson is now 4-1 as the starting quarterback for Baltimore with the only blemish an overtime road loss to the Chiefs. The Ravens winning formula is simple: play stifling defense and run the football. Since Jackson took over at quarterback, the Ravens are essentially running a wildcat offense with the quarterback running the ball nearly as often as he passes it. The results have been good. Baltimore has averaged over 230 yards per game on the ground over the last five weeks after averaging less than 93 per game over their first nine games. It’s worth noting that this run has coincided with playing five of the worst six rush defenses by DVOA in the NFL. The Chargers aren’t exactly the Bears, but they’re at least mediocre against rushing attacks, ranking 16th.

The Chargers will benefit from a rest advantage here. After playing Thursday night, they will end up with nine days off between games while the Ravens will have just six and have to make the cross country trip from Baltimore to LA. The Ravens will return home to face the Browns in Week 17. While the Browns are certainly capable of winning that game, it would be nice for the Titans to get some help from the Chargers on Saturday. If Tennessee wins and Baltimore loses (or ties), Titans fans can go to sleep Saturday night knowing that the Colts matchup in Week 17 is a “win-and-you’re-in” game.

Texans at Eagles

Time: Sunday at 12:00 CST

Line: Texans -3.5

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 3

The AFC South is technically still in play for the Titans, but they need a lot of help from the Texans to close the two game gap. Tennessee would have to win out and have the Texans lose to both the Eagles and Jaguars to win the division. It sounds unlikely, but it’s not completely out of the question.

The Texans were taken to the wire by the Jets in Week 15 and had DeAndre Hopkins hobbled with an ankle injury towards the end of the game. The Eagles still have playoff aspirations after beating the Rams last night to get to 7-7 so I would expect them to at least give Houston a game in Philadelphia, especially if Hopkins is out or less than 100%.

Obviously, the Jaguars are not playing good football right now, but division games are weird and Jacksonville’s defense has really been a problem for the Texans over the past two seasons. Houston has just 34 points in their last three games against the Jags combined. Do I expect the Jaguars are going to win this game in Week 17? Of course not, but stranger things have happened.

Giants at Colts

Time: Sunday at 12:00 CST

Line: Colts -9

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 1

The Titans must beat the Colts in Week 17 to advance to the playoffs regardless of what happens in Week 16 so this game is virtually meaningless for Tennessee. The Colts would still have a shot at the playoffs (even if it’s a highly unrealistic one) heading in to Week 17 even if they lose and the Titans, Steelers, and Ravens all win. So if you’re hoping for a scenario where the Colts are eliminated and choose to rest Andrew Luck in Week 17, there isn’t one. The Titans are going to be playing a fully motivated Colts squad in Nissan Stadium on December 30th one way or another.

In fact, if you want the Titans-Colts game to get flexed to a Sunday Night Football primetime matchup then you actually want the Colts to win this game. It’s far less likely for the NFL to move this game to primetime if one of the teams is relying on results of other games to get into the playoffs. They have historically preferred those games to be happening at the same time so no team gets an advantage from knowing what they have to do. Wins from the Colts and Titans and a loss from either the Steelers or Ravens in Week 16 would make the Titans home finale a true “win-and-you’re-in” scenario.

Jaguars at Dolphins

Time: Sunday at 12:00 CST

Line: Dolphins -5

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 1

This game only matters in the most extreme circumstances. If the Titans lose to the Redskins on Saturday (please don’t), they would still have a very slim chance to make the playoffs if the following things break their way:

  • TEN defeats IND
  • PIT loses to NO and CIN OR BAL loses to LAC and CLE
  • MIA loses to either JAX OR BUF

It’s not a terribly likely scenario, but it’s still possible and a Miami loss would be a part of that formula so I’ll be rooting against the Dolphins (but never for the Jags) this weekend.

Bills at Patriots

Time: Sunday at 12:00 CST

Line: Patriots -12.5

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 1

This game has nothing to do with the Titans making the playoffs, but could come into play when it comes to seeding if Tennessee was to manage to catch the Texans for the AFC South division title. Somehow, the Titans still have a shot to land the 2 seed in the AFC if the following things happen:

  • TEN defeats WAS AND IND
  • HOU loses to PHI AND JAX
  • PIT loses to NO OR CIN
  • BAL loses to LAC OR CLE
  • NE loses to BUF OR NYJ

Again, this isn’t a likely scenario, but it’s not entirely out of the question either. If the Titans do end up winning the division, getting out of the 4 seed would be preferable to avoid a matchup against the AFC West runner up (either the Chargers or the Chiefs) in the wildcard round of the playoffs. Passing the Patriots would be easier than passing the Steelers AND Ravens so Titans fans should root for the Bills this weekend.

The Patriots are really struggling at the moment and while I’d stop short of calling Buffalo a “hot” team, they have won three of their last five and have been in every game since Josh Allen returned to the starting lineup. I wouldn’t be terribly shocked if the Bills hung around in this one.

Steelers at Saints

Time: Sunday at 3:05 CST

Line: Saints -6.5

Derrick Henry Stiff Arms: 4

Finally, this is a simple one. The Titans need either the Steelers or the Ravens to lose at least one game over the next two weeks and this matchup might be their single best chance to have that happen.

The nice thing about the way the schedule lays out in Week 16 is that each game that is really important to Titans fans — Titans-Redskins, Ravens-Chargers, and Steelers-Saints — will be in a different time slot and each of them should be televised in the local market so local fans can watch them all. Texans-Eagles is also in a separate time slot from all of the rest of those games, though it remains to be seen whether the broadcast networks are smart enough to figure out that it is the game that Titans fans will want to see at noon on Sunday. If you know someone who works with CBS, feel free to pass along this note to them.

The Saints-Steelers game in Sunday’s afternoon slot could be enormous for the Titans if the Ravens win on Saturday night. The Saints are one of the league’s best teams, especially at home where they’ve lost just twice in the past two seasons. However, the Steelers are talented enough to hang with anyone and will have their backs against the wall in this game.

Possible Playoff Matchups

The AFC is still very much in flux right now. The Chiefs and Chargers are the only teams to clinch a playoff spot. Those two will battle it out for the AFC West division crown over the next two weeks with the winner likely taking the 1 seed and the loser dropping all the way down to the 5 seed. Both are currently 11-3, but the Chiefs will hold the tiebreaker if they end the season with the same record. The only scenario where anyone, but the Chiefs or Chargers end up with the 1 seed involves the Chiefs losing at home to the Raiders in Week 17. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s impossible’s neighbor.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Raiders, Jets, Jaguars, Bills, Bengals, and Broncos have all officially been eliminated from contention. That leaves the AFC’s other eight teams left battling for the 2, 3, 4, and 6 seeds in all likelihood. Here’s how things would shake out if the season ended today:

1 Chiefs (11-3)

2 Texans (10-4)

3 Patriots (9-5)

4 Steelers (8-5-1)

5 Chargers (11-3)

6 Ravens (8-6)

Colts (8-6)

Titans (8-6)

Dolphins (7-7)

Browns (6-7-1)

There are still scenarios where the Titans could end up as a 2, 3, or 4 seed if the Texans were to collapse over the next two weeks, but the far more likely route into the playoffs is via the 6 seed. If that’s where the Titans end up, they would be traveling to face the 3 seed in the wildcard round of the playoffs. Currently, that spot is occupied by the Patriots, but the Texans, Steelers, or Ravens could also end up there. The Titans combined record against those teams in 2018 is 2-2, but three of those games were played at Nissan Stadium.

I through the question of which team would you most like to see the Titans play in the first round of the playoffs on Twitter and got the following results:

Texans 33%

Patriots 30%

Ravens 28%

Steelers 9%

Which of those teams would you most want to see the Titans draw in the first round of the playoffs if they get in?