The Titans current playoff odds sit at 57% according to FiveThirtyEight and 63% according to Football Outsiders despite not having control of their own destiny and facing two of the NFL’s best teams over the final two weeks. They’re not in bad shape, but they do need help to get there.
Tennessee actually faces the very rare scenario in Week 16 where their own game is just the second most important result of the week. The Jets beating the Steelers would actually help the Titans playoff odds more than the Titans beating the Saints. So let’s dig into why that is along with the full rooting guide for the weekend, starting with the most important game.
Steelers at Jets
When: Sunday at 12:00 PM
Why: The Steelers are the Titans primary competition for the second wildcard spot in the AFC. Tied at 8-6 heading into this week, Pittsburgh currently holds the tiebreaker between these teams thanks to a superior AFC record (Steelers are 6-4 with two conference games remaining while the Titans are 6-5 with one left).
If both teams finish 10-6 — and the Texans beat the Buccaneers — the Titans would be left out of the playoffs. However, a Steelers loss to either the Jets or the Ravens (or both), cracks the door wide open for Tennessee to walk through. Obviously, the Titans would get in at 10-6 over a 9-7 Steelers team, but a 9-7 Titans team that loses to the Saints but beats the Texans would also get in over a 9-7 Steelers team thanks to the strength of victory tiebreaker.
That obviously means that a Jets win, regardless of the Titans result against the Saints, would put Tennessee back in control of their own destiny heading into Week 17.
The odds for Tennessee to make the playoffs would jump from 57% to 81% with a Jets win according to FiveThirtyEight. They’d drop from 57% to 38% with a Steelers win. That’s a 43% delta based on the result of this game alone.
So can the Jets pull off the win? It’s certainly possible. New York has won 4 of their last 6 and sit at 4-3 at home on the season. The Steelers defense is salty, but Duck Hodges and the Pittsburgh offense has scored just 8 touchdowns in their last 7 games. Let’s face it... this Pittsburgh team just isn’t that good.
I expect the Jets to hang around in this game and for the result to come down to whether or not Sam Darnold can make the plays necessary to overcome an elite defense.
Saints at Titans
When: Sunday at 12:00 PM
Why: The second most important game of the weekend is Titans-Saints in Nashville, though some of the shine will come off this one if the Texans win on Saturday (we will get to that shortly).
If the Texans lose to the Bucs, this game becomes critical for the Titans. A win over the Saints would then turn Week 17 into the AFC South title game.
If the Texans win and clinch the AFC South on Saturday, then Titans-Saints becomes much less critical. In fact, the only scenario where this game would matter at all would be in the event that the Colts win out and finish 8-8.
A Titans win would boost playoff odds from 57% to 66% while a loss would drop the chances of getting in to 52% per FiveThirtyEight.
That is, essentially, the argument for resting a guy like Derrick Henry for this game if Houston wins in Tampa. The Week 17 matchup is five times more important than the Saints game when it comes to the Titans odds of getting into the playoffs as a wildcard. If a week of rest gets Henry closer to being Henry for the more important game, I think it’s something they at least have to carefully consider.
Texans at Buccaneers
When: Saturday at 12:00 PM
Why: Obviously this game is critical for the Titans slim odds of winning the division and hosting a playoff game. If the Texans win in Tampa, they clinch the division. If they lose, the Titans regain control.
FiveThirtyEight doesn’t show much of a change in overall playoff odds for the Titans based on this game though. A Texans win knocks Tennessee down from a 57% chance to a 55% chance, while a Bucs win would boost the odds to just 60%. Not a huge change.
One thing to note about this game... I don’t see a scenario where the Texans are resting starters in Week 17 if they win in Tampa. A win would push them to 10-5 and keep them at least within a game of the currently 10-4 Chiefs. Since Houston beat Kansas City earlier this year, the Texans would hold the tiebreaker for seeding purposes which means the Texans would have reason to try and win in the final week. If the Patriots lose to the Bills that becomes even more true because it keeps a first round bye at least theoretically on the table. Going from the 4 seed to the 3 seed would allow the Texans to avoid the Ravens in the divisional round if they did advance which is big. You could make some argument about Houston preferring to play the Bills rather than the Titans in the wildcard round, but considering the fact that the Texans just beat Tennessee in Nashville, I can’t imagine they’d go out of their way to avoid playing their division rival in the first round.
That being said, there is a real possibility of the Texans resting starters for Week 17 if they lose this game, the Titans lose to the Saints, and the Chiefs beat the Bears. That would lock Houston into the 4 seed regardless of Week 17 results and would likely incentivize them to rest Deshaun Watson and company in the final game against Tennessee.
Either way, it’s better for the Titans if the Texans lose this game.
Panthers at Colts
When: Sunday at 12:00 PM
Why: The Colts are officially eliminated from playoff contention, but they can still mess things up for the Titans. Should the Steelers and Titans both finish 8-8, Tennessee would get the tiebreaker and the final playoff spot, unless... the Colts win their final two to get to 8-8. Indianapolis would win the tiebreaker over an 8-8 Titans team and then lose the tiebreaker to Pittsburgh, leaving both AFC South teams out of the playoffs.
A Colts loss boosts then Titans playoff odds from 57% to 63% while a Colts win drops it down to 55%. Not a huge difference, but it would be nice to not have to deal with the Colts creeping around looking to spoil things late.
This game doesn’t matter at all if the Titans beat the Saints, but Indy is the lone reason that Titans-Saints would have any meaning if the Texans win on Saturday.
The Panthers will be starting rookie quarterback Will Grier for the first time in this one. Both teams are in a full on death spiral right now. Carolina has lost 7 of their last 8 and fired long time head coach Ron Rivera, while the Colts have dropped 6 of 7 in their fall from 5-2 to 6-8. Somebody has to break their skid on Sunday.
Ravens at Browns
When: Sunday at 12:00 PM
Why: This game does not directly matter for the Titans playoff odds, but it could be important nonetheless. The Steelers will travel to Baltimore in Week 17 and the Titans would obviously like to see Pittsburgh lose that matchup. However, the Ravens will likely be resting starters in that game if they win this week and clinch the AFC’s 1 seed.
A loss to the Browns combined with a win from either the Patriots or Chiefs would give meaning to the Ravens Week 17 matchup with the Steelers. Before you laugh too hard, the Browns did go on the road and hand Baltimore one of their two losses on the season back in Week 4. This is obviously a very different Ravens team after rattling off 10 straight wins since that game, but it’s a division game on the road. If we know anything about the NFL, it’s that weird results are very possible from week to week.
That being said... a Ravens team resting starters in Week 17 isn’t an automatic W for the Steelers. Say what you will about Robert Griffin III, but he’s a better quarterback than Duck Hodges right now and it’s not like NFL teams can play all backups in these types of situations. The rosters just aren’t deep enough so they’ll have to pick and choose which guys they want down for a rest.
Best and Worst Case Scenarios
The best case scenario, of course, is that the Texans, Steelers, Colts, and Ravens all lose while the Titans win, setting up a Week 17 showdown in Houston for the AFC South title with a potential wildcard safety net if Pittsburgh was to lose in Baltimore. This combination of results would give the Titans a 93% chance of making the playoffs.
The worst case scenario, if all of those games go the wrong way, still leaves the Titans with hope going into Week 17. They would simply need to beat the Texans and have the Steelers lose to the Ravens. Baltimore would likely be resting starters in this scenario. This combo would leave the Titans with a 31% chance of reaching the postseason.
There are two paths to the Titans controlling their own destiny in Week 17:
- Bucs beat Texans AND Titans beat Saints
- Jets beat Steelers
If either of those things happen, the Titans will be in “win and in” mode for the final game of the season for the second straight year.
What do we want to happen with the Patriots and Chiefs?
I left these games off above for a reason. The reason is... it’s complicated. On one hand, the Titans could use at least one of these teams winning, combined with a Ravens loss, to force Baltimore into playing to win against the Steelers in Week 17 to secure the 1 seed and home field advantage.
On the other hand, there are playoff matchup implications with each of these teams to consider. The Titans could theoretically still catch the Chiefs and take the 3 seed if the Texans lose to Tampa, the Titans win out, and Kansas City loses to both the Bears and Chargers. That could leave Tennessee hosting either the Texans or the Steelers in the wildcard round and then traveling to New England in the divisional round.
The Titans cannot catch the Patriots so the 2 seed is out of the question, but if Tennessee winds up with the wildcard spot — still the most likely scenario — it becomes a question of which team represents the most favorable first round matchup for the Titans out of the Patriots, Chiefs, and Texans. Given the way these teams are playing right now, I actually think the Patriots might be the ideal matchup (despite the Titans recent successes with the Chiefs). If you agree, you could root for the Chiefs to win and the Patriots to lose this week to move Kansas City into the 2 seed and bump New England down to the 3.
If the Texans win Saturday, and the 3 seed becomes officially out of reach, I think you can make a case for Titans fans to be rooting for a Patriots loss and a Chiefs win in Week 16.