A year ago, the Tennessee Titans were one and done in the NFL playoffs.
This year, they are No. 1. The Titans clinched the top seed in the AFC with a 28-25 victory over the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on Sunday. That means they get a bye through the wild card round and will play at home in the divisional round as well as – if they advance – the conference championship game.
In short, their chances to reach the Super Bowl improved dramatically.
Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams and realigned into eight divisions in 2002, more than half the No. 1 seeds from the AFC and NFC – 20 of 38 – eventually played for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. That includes at least one in seven of the last eight years and five instances in which both No. 1s met for the title. There have been just four times over that span when neither No. 1 made it to the Super Bowl.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that only eight No. 1 seeds have won the Super Bowl over the last 19 years and more than half of those (five) were the result of the 1 vs. 1 matchups.
“It definitely gives us an advantage, homefield advantage, a lot of momentum, but we still got to come out and play ball," wide receiver A..J. Brown said. "... So, I'm excited. I know we're excited. But at the end of the day, we know we got to be clean because playoff ball is different. It's a new season.”
A rundown of the No. 1 seeds in the AFC and NFC from 2002-20:
|Year||AFC No. 1||NFC No. 1||Super Bowl?|
New England won
New England won
Indianapolis d. New Orleans
New England lost
Seattle d. Denver
New England d. Seattle
Denver d. Carolina
New England won
Philadelphia d. New England
San Francisco lost
Kansas City lost
The Titans (12-5) tied with Kansas City for the best record in the AFC this season but claimed the top spot – and its inherent advantages – for the postseason by virtue of a head-to-head victory during the regular season, 27-3 in Week 7 at Nissan Stadium.
As a result, Tennessee is now one of five AFC teams to earn the No. 1 seed more than once in the past 20 seasons.
The Titans also topped the conference in 2008, when they finished with an NFL-best 13-3 record in the regular season. All three defeats came in the final six weeks.
This time they won their final three and four of the final five and climbed into the top spot a week before the finale.
"We took care of business and put ourselves in a good position," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "That's all it is, a good position. We have to go out and play our best football here in the coming weeks. That's what great teams do. That's what the team that ultimately wins the whole thing will do, is play their best football and win games in January into February.”
That is not what happened in 2008. A 13-10 loss to Baltimore in the divisional round made for a quick postseason exit.
That season’s top seed in the NFC, the New York Giants, also was one-and-done, which made it one of just two seasons among the last 20 when neither No. 1s won a playoff game. The other was 2010 (New England and Atlanta).
Prior to realignment, the Titans claimed the No. 1 seed in 2000. That year they also lost to the Ravens in the divisional round.
Baltimore did not make it this year. Which team Tennessee faces in this season’s playoff opener is yet to be determined. The bracket is re-seeded after the wild card round, which means a matchup with the lowest remaining seed after the wild card round awaits.
What is certain is the game will be at Nissan Stadium. And that the Titans have an extra week to rest and to get prepared.
“Well, the first thing is going to be to get healthy," coach Mike Vrabel said. "You know, to use that time to get healthy. ... And then try to improve. We were really doing a lot of good things defensively, and this will be good. This will be a good week and be able to coach them hard and they'll respond to that.”