It may be the Christmas season, but the song that applies most to the Tennessee Titans this December has nothing to do with a red-nosed reindeer or any halls that need to be decked.
It’s more like the Bee Gees' disco classic Stayin’ Alive, because that's what the Titans have been doing for the past two months, as they finally pulled their season record back to .500 at 7-7 with a much-needed overtime victory against the Miami Dolphins, 27-24.
The task gets much more difficult now, because the San Diego Chargers come to LP Field on Christmas night, sporting the second best record in the AFC at 11-3 and having won nine in a row this season. If that’s not enough, the Chargers have won 17 consecutive games in the month of December.
In short, the Titans have to win again Friday night and then hope yet again that those teams ahead of them in the standings continue to falter.
Tennessee got some much-needed help last week when Indianapolis downed Jacksonville, Oakland shocked Denver and the Atlanta Falcons pulled out a last-minute win against the New York Jets. Green Bay came within a final play of eliminating the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the defending Super Bowl champs pulled it out, and just like the Titans have to hope for a playoff miracle down the stretch.
The Chargers provide a nice model for the Titans to look at, as last year, San Diego was 4-8 and all but done, trailing Denver by four games in the AFC West standings. That’s when the Chargers got hot, won out and the Broncos did a free fall right out of the playoffs.
Let’s look at what the Titans need this week, other than winning against San Diego on Friday night.
Baltimore Ravens (8-6). The Ravens have a pivotal game this week at Pittsburgh, where the Steelers cling to playoff life by a thread much like the Titans. Baltimore could put itself in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth by knocking out the desperate Steelers. After that, the Ravens conclude the season at the Jeckyll-and-Hyde Oakland Raiders, who seem to play well against good teams and poorly against bad ones.
Denver Broncos (8-6). No team gets into the Christmas spirit like the Broncos when the calendar flips to December. The Broncos gagged away a playoff spot last year, losing four straight and ushering the departures of Coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Jay Cutler out of town. Now, new coach Josh McDaniels is facing a similar fold-up, as the Broncos were stunned against the Raiders at home. Now, they must travel across country to Philadelphia, before returning home to finish with Kansas City. They need to win both to get in. Otherwise, they may be looking at another season where they let the postseason slip away.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-7). Speaking of folding up, the Jaguars are struggling down the stretch as well, having lost two straight to Miami and Indianapolis. This week, it doesn’t get any easier, as they must travel to New England where the Patriots are 7-0 this year. If they can pull the upset there, then a road game at Cleveland awaits them in the finale, something that could allow them to sneak in the back door of the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins (7-7). The Titans did their part in beating the Dolphins last week, though a late Miami rally pushed the game into overtime. Now, the Dolphins have to do their part down the stretch. Miami is home to Houston this Sunday with both teams hanging by a thread at 7-7. The loser of this game is certainly out. The Titans’ bigger interest in the Dolphins could be in the final week when they host Pittsburgh.
New York Jets (7-7). The Jets let one get away that they desperately needed, when the Atlanta Falcons scored in the final minute to claim a 10-7 victory. Coach Rex Ryan said he thought the Jets’ playoff hopes were finished with loss, but that’s not the case yet. The Jets need plenty of help, but first things first, their schedule is potentially the toughest of any remaining hopeful. They travel to uneaten Indianapolis this week and close against the likely playoff-bound Bengals next week. Their best shot is that both those teams will rest their starters.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7). The Steelers were down for the count until Mike Wallace did his best Santonio Holmes impersonation on the final play against the Packers Sunday, just getting his feet down with a TD catch as time expired to help Pittsburgh end a five-game skid and get back to .500. The Ravens come to town Sunday in a key game. If you’re a Titans fan, then you’re also a Steelers fan on Sunday. Pittsburgh then closes the year in Miami, another game that could have serious playoff implications for a number of teams in the final week.
Houston Texans (7-7). The Texans have gotten up off the deck as well, winning two in a row after losing four straight. Their 16-13 struggle with the Rams wasn’t pretty, but they’ll take wins any way they can get them. The Texans visit Miami this Sunday and then play at home against New England and obviously have to win both and get loads of help elsewhere.