The Tennessee Titans are playing the old “one game at a time” card as they try to secure their first playoff berth since 2003.
But that won’t stop us from taking a look at what the schedule holds for the Titans and the other AFC wild-card contenders with four games remaining.
At 7-5, Tennessee is currently tied with the Cleveland Browns for the sixth and final slot in the AFC postseason chase, and would lose the tiebreaker currently because the Browns have played and won one more AFC game than have the Titans.
The Titans’ AFC South rival Jacksonville currently holds the other wild-card slot with an 8-4 mark.
The Buffalo Bills are still in the playoff chase at 6-6 after winning at Washington on Sunday.
Even the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans, both 5-7, are still alive, but both are longshots who need to run the table over their final four games and hope for plenty of help, just as Tennessee did last season when it stayed alive until the final week after being 5-7 at this juncture a year ago.
The Titans’ remaining schedule includes Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers, a Dec. 16 visit to Kansas City, a Dec. 23 home date with the New York Jets and their finale at Indianapolis. The combined record of those four teams is 24-24, the second toughest schedule among the five teams still in the hunt. However, it could be lessened, if the injury-riddled Colts have nothing to gain or lose in postseason seeding in that last game.
By comparison, the Browns’ opponents — at the Jets, vs. Buffalo, at Cincinnati and at home with San Francisco — are only 16-32 combined, by far the easiest schedule remaining for any contender.
There will be some pivotal games between the contenders as well over the final four games, as Buffalo visits Cleveland on Dec. 16, and the Broncos visit the Texans in a Thursday night game on Dec. 13. Titans fans will want to pull for Houston in that game, simply because if they wind up in a tiebreaker with either of those teams, they have an advantage by having swept the Texans, but would lose out head-to-head against Denver.
Besides, the Broncos’ 5-4 conference record is respectable, while the Texans’ 3-6 record in the AFC and 0-4 mark inside the South Division likely would cost them in any tiebreaker situation.
The Titans are also the only one of the remaining contenders to have nothing but AFC games remaining on their schedule. Tennessee is currently 4-4 against conference opponents, while Cleveland is 5-4 and Jacksonville is 6-3. However, the Titans could offset being behind Jacksonville in the conference if they can defeat Indianapolis and finish 4-2 inside the AFC South. The best the Jaguars can do in the division is 3-3.
Tennessee’s game with the Jets could also come into play, since both the Titans and Browns have games with the Jets remaining, and a team’s record against common opponents is the next tiebreaker after head-to-head and division and/or conference records.
How will it play out? Stay tuned, and remember last season when the Titans entered the final week with the slimmest of hopes, only to have every scenario play out correctly except their own game with New England. That allowed Kansas City, the only team whose odds were longer than the Titans, to slip in and grab the final AFC playoff slot.