In the season finale, the Tennessee Titans beat the Houston Texans 28-25 in Houston to secure a 12-5 record for the season and the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC playoffs. Here’s what you need to know:
The Titans will get first-round bye, a welcome week of rest and homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Since realignment in 2002, 20 of 38 No. 1 seeds in the two conferences have made it to the Super Bowl. For Tennessee, which has used a league-leading 91 different players this season, it’s a chance to get their first-choice players onto the field, including running back Derrick Henry. Last year’s rushing leader practiced this week and is expected to be available for the playoff game.
“It definitely gives us an advantage, homefield advantage, a lot of momentum, but we’ve still got to come out and play ball," wide receiver A..J. Brown said after the game. "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.”
With the running game effective but not particularly efficient — D’Onta Foreman rushed 21 times for 69 yards, Dontrell Hilliard added another 57 yards, but neither had a touchdown — the burden of the offense fell on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those scores came in the second quarter, as Tannehill found Anthony Firkser, Brown and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine on three successive drives. Most importantly, he had no turnovers, completed more than 71 percent of his passes and finished with a passer rating of 138.9.
Jones and Brown stand out
Tannehill and offensive coordinator Todd Downing were determined to get Julio Jones engaged in the game. The veteran receiver has missed five of the last nine games and has posted career lows for receptions (31) and yards (434). But he was targeted a team-high nine times and caught five balls for 58 yards and, most importantly, his first touchdown of the year. A.J. Brown was targeted six times and had four receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown. Even without Henry, the duo created space for other receivers, including a critical Westbrook-Ikhine 36 yard catch on third down after the Texans had cut the lead to three in the fourth quarter.
The future of the linebacking corps
The pregame list of scratches provides a window into what the center of the Titans defense may look like going forward. Jayon Brown was a healthy scratch while David Long played 56 of 56 defensive snaps and Zach Cunningham played 37, plus another four on special teams. Former first-round draft pick Rashaan Evans played only two defensive snaps. It’s clear that Cunningham, a former all-pro who was cut by the Texans mid-season, has made an impact after leading the Titans in tackles (6) against his former team and picking up two tackles for loss.
The Titans will host the lowest-remaining AFC seed in two weeks. If the seeds were to hold, the No. 1 Titans would play the No. 4 seed Cincinnati Bengals, who finished the season 10-7 after a Week 18 loss to the Browns where Joe Burrow and other starters did not play. The Titans are 2-2 against AFC playoff teams, with wins over the No. 2 Chiefs and No. 3 Bills and losses to the No. 5 Patriots and No. 7 Steelers. They are 2-1 against NFC playoff teams, with a season-opening loss to the No. 5 Cardinals and wins over the No. 4 Rams and No. 6 Niners.
Vegas has installed the Titans as third-favorite to win the Super Bowl from the AFC and fifth-favorite overall. Odds via FanDuel.
Green Bay Packers +380
Kansas City Chiefs +500
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +750
Buffalo Bills +750
Tennessee Titans +850
Los Angeles Rams +950
Dallas Cowboys +1100
Arizona Cardinals +1700
Cincinnati Bengals +1900
New England Patriots +2100
San Francisco 49ers +2400
Las Vegas Raiders +4400
Philadelphia Eagles +5000
Pittsburgh Steelers +7000