Given the breadth of hardship the Tennessee Titans have withstood this season, the fact that they are just one win away from the No. 1 seed in the AFC is rather impressive.
The Titans have endured 15 players currently on injured reserve, placing 27 players on reserve/COVID-19 list, playing without Derrick Henry for the last eight games and using an NFL-record 89 players this season. And, yet, a win in Houston on Sunday and Tennessee locks up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the AFC’s only first-round bye.
“This is another critical week,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said. “We will treat it all the same way. For some guys on our football team, this will be the first chance they have of playing in a playoff game in the National Football League. Some guys have already come up and told me this is their first winning season that they have been a part of, and they just appreciate the type of football team and the type of organization that we have.”
There are multiple scenarios that lock Tennessee into the AFC’s No. 1 seed:
1). Tennessee wins in Houston
2). Tennessee ties with Houston, and Kansas City loses or ties with Denver (Kansas City beat Denver 22-9 in their first meeting on Dec. 5)
3). Tennessee loses to Houston, Kansas City loses to Denver, Cincinnati ties or loses to Cleveland (Cincinnati lost 41-16 to Cleveland in their first meeting on Nov. 7) and New England ties or loses to Miami (New England lost 17-16 to Miami in their first meeting in Week 1)
4). Tennessee loses to Houston, Kansas City loses, Cincinnati ties or loses, and Buffalo beats the New York Jets (Buffalo throttled New York 45-17 in their first meeting on Nov. 14.)
The easiest road for the Titans is to win on Sunday against the Texans (4-12), which isn’t necessarily a lock to happen. After all, we’re just six weeks removed from a 22-13 Titans loss to the Texans in Nashville, a defeat that snapped an eight-game losing streak for Houston and began a stretch of three losses in four games for Tennessee.
In that game, the Titans had five turnovers, including four Ryan Tannehill interceptions.
“[That] was a tough day overall,” Vrabel said. “A lot of things contributed to that. You can’t win when you turn the ball over as many times as we did…I am confident that Ryan will start this work week off well with his preparation and continue to improve as the week goes on.”
Should Tennessee and Kansas City both win on Sunday, the Titans would get the top seed thanks to their head-to-head win over the Chiefs on Oct. 24. The last time the Titans had the AFC’s No. 1 seed was 2008.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_