Boclair: Short division

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 10:05pm

Shaun Smith talks a lot. Almost constantly, it seems.

So it makes sense that someone like that eventually must repeat himself.

One thing that the massive defensive tackle has said over and over since he signed with the Tennessee Titans is that the primary goal for this team — for any NFL team — is to win the division. 

He first raised the issue on Twitter about an hour after he announced his intention to join the Titans on that same social media site. Then, he wrote, “It’s time to win the division.” He has expressed a similar sentiment many times in person since his arrival in Middle Tennessee.

The good news for Smith and the Titans is that in the five games before their bye, the number of contenders for this season’s AFC South crown effectively was cut in half.

The remainder of the season essentially has become a match race between Tennessee and Houston, beginning with this Sunday’s face-to-face showdown at LP Field. The Indianapolis Colts have looked lost — and have lost often — without quarterback Peyton Manning. The Jacksonville Jaguars have looked like, well … the Jaguars.

The Titans and Texans did not exactly set the world on fire either through the first five games. They managed to get clear of the other two, though, and that’s something.

Playoff berths do not come easy in the NFL. With all the parity created by draft and scheduling policies the difference between playing on or going home can come down to something as esoteric as the “best won-lost-tied percentage” in games within the division, the conference or with common opponents.

Plus, with only two wild card spots up for grabs in each conference, the best way to make it is for a team to win its division, of which there are eight. Do that and you’re in, regardless of your record or which teams you beat and by how much.

Take last season as an example. Two NFC teams, the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, went 10-6 and failed to reach the postseason. At the same time, the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks, with current Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, won the NFC West and not only got to the playoffs, but dethroned the New Orleans Saints in the opening round and gave the Chicago Bears fits the following weekend.

The Titans have enough to worry about trying to figure out their own identity with a new coaching staff, running back Chris Johnson’s slow start and finding consistent, productive replacements for Kenny Britt.

If they had to fret over what five or six other teams were doing from week to week it only would add to the burden.

That is not an issue, at least not for now. The Texans are all that matter.

Like the Titans, they went 3-2 through the first five weeks and they felt at least one of their losses probably should have been a victory. Like the Titans, they have had some injury issues.

In addition to Sunday’s game at LP field, the teams also conclude the regular season against one another at Reliant Stadium. That ought to be plenty to hold the attention of players and coaches on either side of the rivalry all the way to the finish.

Chances are if one team wins both of those games — the season series has been a split each of the past three years — it will have a stranglehold on the division, which heretofore has belonged almost exclusively to the Colts.

Following an offseason of so much uncertainty, there was a feeling that it would be a long time before the Titans were talking about division championships again. Turns out, it took less than half the season … and one free agent signing.