Here are some words Titans fans thought they would never utter this season: The Jacksonville Jaguars control their own playoff destiny.
If the Jags, who defeated the Dallas Cowboys in overtime Sunday to improve to 6-8, defeat the New York Jets and Houston Texans in the next two weeks, it would set up a potential winner-take-all match with the Titans in Jacksonville Jan. 8 with the AFC South at stake.
The Titans are foundering right now and dropped their fourth consecutive game Sunday in Los Angeles to fall to 7-7 overall.
Injuries, of course, are a major culprit for the Titans in their recent downfall. Before the team even made the trip to the West Coast, the Titans declared seven players out Friday and wound up placing two of them – running back Dontrell Hilliard and wide receiver C.J. Board – on injured reserve just to create roster spots for some healthier bodies for the game against the Chargers.
The attrition continued during the game and – combined with spotty play from the offense, which had just seven points for most of the game – a valiant defensive performance was wasted and another game fell into the loss column for the Titans.
All that said, the Titans should not panic just yet, because their path to the postseason is still much easier and more likely than Jacksonville’s.
To look at the standings half full, the Titans also still control their playoff fate, holding that one-game edge now over the Jaguars. But the loss at home to the Jags has – for the moment, at least – cost the Titans the head-to-head tiebreaker with Jacksonville.
But if the Titans can win that regular-season finale, they would then capture the division title based on a better overall division record, even if they end up with the same overall record as Jacksonville.
The way this now breaks down is that the Titans wouldn’t necessarily have to win against either the Houston Texans on Christmas Eve or at home against the Dallas Cowboys Dec. 29 in order to still have playoff life entering the final weekend of the regular season.
As crazy as it would sound to enter that last game in Jacksonville at 7-9 and riding what would be a six-game losing streak, the Titans – thanks to their big early season cushion that has all but evaporated – would need only to win in Jacksonville to procure their third straight AFC South crown and the accompanying home playoff game that would go with it.
The Jaguars, in certain scenarios, could also manage to lose one of their next two and still have hope, as long as the Titans don’t right the ship and win their next two. In that situation, the Titans could actually have the division race clinched before they ever board their flight to north Florida.
It sounds complicated on the surface, but it really isn’t. Using a version of baseball’s “magic number” formula, the Titans’ magic number is three. Any combination of Titans wins and Jaguars losses that totals three means a division title for Tennessee.
If the Titans win two games – they likely will be favored only against the Texans this week – and the Jaguars lose one, Tennessee wins the division. If the Titans win one and the Jaguars lose twice, same result.
So as bad as it looks right now, and as undeserving as this Titans team might be of hosting a playoff game, the reality is it would take a monumental collapse for it not to happen.
NBC at halftime of Sunday Night Football flashed a graphic that the Titans still have a 64% chance of winning the AFC South. Now that’s not as good as the 85% chance they had before Sunday, but still better than 50-50.
Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com, a part of Main Street Media.