The Titans are doing their part, stacking win after win in increasingly impressive fashion over the last couple months, and they got some help from around the league in Week 14 as well. The Broncos walloped the Texans in Houston, the Bucs came from behind to knock off the Colts, and the Ravens held off the Bills. The only result that didn’t go the Titans way was a Steelers win over the Cardinals.
That combination has their chances of making the playoffs north of 60% on both FiveThirtyEight’s Elo Ratings (64%) and Football Outsiders Playoff Odds (70.6%) heading into Week 15. In fact, Football Outsiders likes the Titans to win the AFC South, listing them as having a 54.8% chance to win the division (FiveThirtyEight has them at a 45% shot, still giving Houston a slight edge).
So what do the Titans need to have happen to win the division or make the playoffs as a wildcard? What kind of seed might they be able to reach? Let’s take a look.
To win the AFC South...
This is effectively a two team race now with the Colts loss to the Bucs dropping them to 6-7 and the Titans and Texans tied at the top at 8-5. Indianapolis would need to win out, have the Titans and Texans split their games and have both the Titans and Texans lose in Week 16 to get back in the mix. That would give Indy the division by virtue of the common opponents tiebreaker. The hardest part of that equation is probably the Colts winning out. They’re at New Orleans this week before hosting the Panthers and then traveling to Jacksonville. Possible, but very unlikely given how they’ve played recently.
The Titans have two roads to reach the division title and the home playoff game that goes with it:
1. Sweep the Texans. If they do that, it doesn’t matter what happens in the Saints game or with the Colts, the Titans are division champs.
2. Split with the Texans, beat the Saints, and have the Texans lose at Tampa Bay in Week 16.
Both are in play thanks to the Texans embarrassing home loss to Denver this week. The Buccaneers — despite Jameis Winston’s erratic play — are one of the hotter teams in the NFL right now. Since losing to the Titans in Week 8, the Bucs are 3-2 with the two losses coming at Seattle (in overtime) and against the Saints. If the Texans can lose to Denver at home, they can lose in Tampa.
If the Titans win their next two and the Texans lose their next two, Tennessee would be able to travel to Houston with the division title in their back pocket in Week 17.
To win a wildcard spot...
There are essentially three teams battling for two spots here. You’ve got the Steelers (8-5) and then the runners up from the AFC South and AFC East divisions. Currently in second place in those divisions are the Titans (8-5) and the Bills (9-4), but those races aren’t quite over just yet. The Texans (8-5) could replace the Titans in this hunt if the two switch places in the next few weeks and the Patriots (10-3) could drop into the race if their skid continues and the Bills finish strong.
That makes playing out these scenarios a little complicated, but here we go...
The Titans will win the division with a sweep of Houston so the only scenarios worth considering for a wildcard spot involving Tennessee would see them splitting their matchups with the Texans or getting swept by their division rival.
If the Titans split with Houston and beat New Orleans to finish 10-6...
They would need two Steelers losses (vs BUF, at NYJ, at BAL) OR three Patriots losses (at CIN, vs BUF, vs MIA) OR three Bills losses (at PIT, at NE, vs NYJ) to win the wildcard.
(Of course, as mentioned above, a split with the Texans combined with a win over the Saints and a Texans loss in Tampa wins the division for the Titans.)
The Steelers losing a couple is certainly feasible, but the Ravens may have the 1 seed locked up before Week 17 at this rate so there would seemingly be a good chance they sit Lamar Jackson for that one. The Titans will need the Ravens to drop one to either the Jets or Browns in the next two weeks and either the Pats or Chiefs to win their next two to avoid that situation.
I have a hard time seeing the Pats losing out with their schedule, but the Bills dropping three in a row is at least possible with two tough road matchups on tap for them the next two weeks. The Titans rooting interests in the wildcard will be cleared up enormously by the result of the Bills-Steelers game on Sunday Night Football. A Bills win would be most helpful.
If the Titans split with Houston and lose to New Orleans to finish 9-7...
They would need two Steelers losses (vs BUF, at NYJ, at BAL) with one of the losses being to the Bills AND one more loss from the Colts.
So why is this requirement no different than the 10-6 scenario above? Well, a Titans-Steelers tiebreaker at 10-6 would favor Pittsburgh thanks to what would be a 8-4 AFC record compared to Tennessee’s 7-5. However, a 9-7 finish with one of the Titans losses coming against New Orleans would leave both teams with 7-5 AFC records, dropping the tiebreaker down to the next level, record versus common opponents. If the Steelers lose to Buffalo, that makes both teams 3-2 in games against common opponents (Browns, Bills, Colts, and Chargers). That pushes the tiebreaker to strength of victory where the Titans would win easily.
If the Titans get swept by Houston but beat New Orleans to finish 9-7...
They would need three Steelers losses (vs BUF, at NYJ, at BAL) AND one more loss from the Colts.
This is a brutal scenario for the Titans. They’d need the Steelers to lose out to have any hope of getting in.
Which playoff seeds are still in play?
The short answer? Everything except the 1 seed. There is still a small chance for the Titans to wind up with a bye in the first round of the playoffs. It takes some improbable things happening, but it’s technically still possible if all of the below come to pass:
TEN wins out
KC loses one
NE loses two
BUF loses two
Not actually that impossible, but it’s a narrow path for sure.
The Titans road to a 3 seed would likely require them winning out as well, but it would take just one Chiefs slip up against the Broncos, Bears, or Chargers to slide ahead of KC. The difference between the 3 and 4 seed is looking pretty important right now. The 4 seed would likely host Buffalo in the wildcard round and then turn around and travel to Baltimore for the divisional round while the 3 seed would host the Steelers (or Texans if the Steelers bottomed out) and then travel to New England if things track the way they standing right now. I know which road I’d prefer and it’s not the one that goes through Baltimore.
Week 15 Rooting Guide
This is a huge week for the Titans playoff hopes. Here are the games that matter and who you should be rooting for (besides Titans over Texans, obviously):
Jets over Ravens (Thursday Night Football)
This one is simple. The Titans don’t want the Ravens running away with the 1 seed and sitting starters against the Steelers in Week 17. An upset loss at home to the Jets would help that cause.
Bengals over Patriots
The Patriots could end up losing their grip on the AFC East if they aren’t careful here and that would drop them into the wildcard race. The Titans could also use some help here for seeding purposes if they win the AFC South. Tennessee would own the tiebreaker thanks to conference record if the Titans and Patriots end up with the same overall record.
Broncos over Chiefs
Titans helped the Chiefs lock up the AFC West title today, but they’ll be hoping for more help from the Broncos for seeding purposes on Sunday.
Bills over Steelers (Sunday Night Football)
This is a big one. The Bills beating the Steelers would be a huge break for the Titans. As laid out above, Tennessee almost certainly needs Pittsburgh to lose twice to have a shot at a wildcard spot and it would really help if one of those losses was to the Bills for tiebreaker purposes.
Saints over Colts (Monday Night Football)
This one only becomes important if the Titans don’t take care of their own business, but watching the door get slammed officially on the Colts would be a nice way to finish off the week.
The best case scenario for Week 15 — say the Titans beat the Texans, Bills best the Steelers, Broncos beat the Chiefs, and Saints beat the Colts — would leave Tennessee as the 3 seed heading into Week 16. The Colts would be completely out of the picture and a Steelers loss in Week 16 or Week 17 would clinch the Titans a playoff berth regardless of their own outcomes.