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NFL Playoff Picture: Titans now in “win and in” situation in Week 17

The playoff scenarios are now much simpler thanks to a Jets win over the Steelers.

New Orleans Saints v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Titans came up short against the Saints today, but their playoff odds actually improved thanks to a 16-10 Jets win over the Steelers. Tennessee now has a 60% chance of reaching the postseason according to FiveThirtyEight.

Despite what the FOX broadcasters kept repeating at the end of the game, the Titans do NOT need the Steelers to lose next week to make the playoffs. They simply need to beat the Texans and they’re in.

Let me lay out the reason for why that’s the case here so we can clear up any confusion about what’s going to happen here.

The Titans and Steelers are now tied at 8-7 overall and the NFL’s wildcard tiebreakers when there are two teams involved go as follows:

Since the Titans and Steelers did not play head to head, the first tiebreaker becomes conference record. Tennessee and Pittsburgh are both 6-5 in the AFC and would obviously end up with the same AFC record if they were to each win or lose next week.

That drops us down to common opponents. The Titans and Steelers have four common opponents that they have played a total of five games against. The Titans and Steelers are each 3-2 against the Colts, Browns, Chargers, and Bills and that won’t change with next week’s results.

That brings us to strength of victory, which is simply the combined winning percentage of the teams you beat during the season. As of this writing, the Titans 8 wins have come against opponents with a combined 52-65 (0.444):

  • Browns (6-9)
  • Falcons (6-9)
  • Chargers (5-9)
  • Buccaneers (7-8)
  • Chiefs (10-4)
  • Jaguars (5-10)
  • Colts (7-8)
  • Raiders (6-8)

The Steelers 8 wins have come against opponents with a combined 36-81-1 (0.309).

  • Bengals (1-14)
  • Chargers (5-9)
  • Dolphins (4-11)
  • Colts (7-8)
  • Rams (8-7)
  • Bengals (1-14)
  • Browns (6-9)
  • Cardinals (4-9-1)

That means the Titans would easily get this tiebreaker even if all the teams the Steelers beat won next week while all the teams the Titans beat lose. This one is ironclad in favor of the Titans.

All that means that if Tennessee and Pittsburgh end up in a head to head tiebreaker, Tennessee will be the 6 seed in the AFC.

So the Titans win and they’re in next week. If they lose, things become more complicated.

Tennessee could get in with a loss to Houston if the Ravens beat the Steelers and the Colts either tie or lose against the Jaguars, but obviously they’ll be trying to keep it from coming to that.

But wait... I thought the Colts were eliminated already?

Well, they are, but they could still play spoiler for the Titans in Week 17 thanks to the way the NFL handles tiebreakers when multiple teams in the same division end up with the same overall record. If the Titans, Steelers, and Colts were to all finish 8-8, the NFL would break the Colts-Titans tie first using divisional tiebreakers and then apply the wildcard tiebreaker procedure outlined above to break the tie between the remaining AFC South team and the Steelers. The Colts would win the tiebreaker with the Titans thanks to their division record — 4-2 to 2-4 — but would then lose the tiebreaker with the Steelers due to record versus common opponents.

The Titans can eliminate all that noise with a win over Houston though. A rested Derrick Henry and the hopeful return of guys like Jeffery Simmons, Adoree’ Jackson, and Adam Humphries should help.