NASHVILLE – The situation is nothing new – mostly – for the Tennessee Titans.
Win in Week 17 against a division opponent and they’re in the playoffs. The same was true last season, when they hosted Indianapolis in the regular season finale, and in 2017, when Jacksonville came to town to conclude the schedule.
This time, they have to win on the road in order to set themselves on the path toward the Super Bowl.
Of course, there are scenarios where in which they can lose and still make it to the postseason, but their best bet is just to beat the Texans. That would ensure, at worst, a tie with Pittsburgh that the Titans would win based on the fifth tiebreaker, strength of wins.
Sunday, the NFL set the Titans-Texans kickoff time for 3:25 p.m. (CST). Pittsburgh, Oakland and Indianapolis, each of which potentially could factor into a tiebreaker with Tennessee (the Colts are the only ones with no chance to make the playoffs) will play at the same time.
So, the Titans won’t know their fate when they take the field.
“The focus and the mentality is that now we’re playing playoff games,” coach Mike Vrabel said Monday. “When you win in the playoffs, you go find another game. When you lose, your season’s over. So, that’s really the mindset that we have to take and the approach that we have to take.”
The rundown of exactly what the Titans have to do to make the playoffs:
1) Beat Houston
2) Tie Houston and Pittsburgh loses or ties
3) Pittsburgh loses and Indianapolis loses or ties
Pittsburgh will play Baltimore, which has nothing on the line. The Ravens already have clinched the AFC North along with the conference’s top seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Texans have a little on the line. They already have clinched the AFC South but can move from the conference’s No. 4 seed to No. 3 if they beat Tennessee and Kansas City loses on Sunday. In that event, both teams would be 11-5 and Houston would get the edge based on a head-to-head victory (31-24 on Oct. 13).
If Houston moves up and the Titans still get in, they would meet again on the opening weekend of the playoffs. It would be their third game against each other in four weeks.
“Every game we go into we play to win,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien said Monday. “So, we’re playing to win.”
Indianapolis and Oakland each are on the road against teams that already have been eliminated from playoff contention, Jacksonville and Denver, respectively.
In all, there are 64 different possibilities for AFC playoff seeding. According to the New York Times playoff predictor, Tennessee, which can only earn the AFC’s No. 6 seed, has a 65 percent chance to be part of the field.
Last season, the Titans lost 33-17 to the Colts in a winner-take-all contest for the final AFC playoff spot.
A year earlier, they defeated Jacksonville 15-10, snapped a decade-long playoff drought and advanced to the division round when they upset Kansas City on wild card weekend. Only 19 players who played for Tennessee in the 2017 finale currently are on the active roster.
“I think that that’s always an interesting dynamic when you get to the end of the season and there’s teams that have secured whatever playoff spot that they have,” Vrabel said. “We have to focus on the Texans and what we think that they have done, will do and what they’ve shown through the course of the season.”