Titans face numerous playoff scenarios

Monday, December 17, 2007 at 11:40pm

The Tennessee Titans’ playoff chances are still very fluid with two weeks left in the NFL regular season.

The Titans need victories this week over the New York Jets and next week at Indianapolis. Then they need help — either from Cincinnati and/or Oakland this week and possibly from Baltimore and/or Houston the next week.

At 8-6, the Titans are still a game behind the 9-5 Cleveland Browns for the final AFC wild-card spot, but are also still mathematically alive to knock out the 10-4 Jacksonville Jaguars for the other wild-card slot.

In between, there are a lot of what-ifs to contend with.

Assuming for a minute that the Titans can take care of business and finish 10-6 on their end, they need one of the following scenarios to play out in their favor:

• They would need Cleveland to lose this Sunday at Cincinnati, putting the Titans in control of their playoff destiny heading into their final game against the Colts. The Browns’ loss in their final two games must come against Cincinnati, an AFC opponent, rather than their finale against San Francisco, an NFC team. Cleveland is currently 7-4 in the AFC, compared to Tennessee’s 5-5. An eighth Browns victory in the AFC would eliminate the Titans in a head-to-head comparison.

• If the Browns beat the Bengals, Cleveland clinches a playoff spot and the Titans would have to turn their attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ finale in Baltimore. There the Titans would be hoping for the Ravens to pull an upset. That would give both teams a 10-6 record at the finish, and Tennessee would earn the playoff nod over Pittsburgh by virtue of a better strength of victory percentage. As an added side to that scenario, the Titans would need the Browns to beat the 49ers to claim the AFC North title, rather than the wild card.

Of course, if the Steelers or Browns lost both their final games, the Titans would get in with two victories.

• Tennessee’s final route into the playoffs is to have the Jaguars lose their final two games — this Sunday at Oakland and in the finale at Houston. If both teams finished at 10-6, the Titans would win out over the Jags by virtue of their superior record inside the AFC South.

INJURIES: Several Titans players were undergoing tests and evaluations as a result of injuries suffered in Sunday’s 26-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Among the players who suffered injuries in the game were linebacker Ryan Fowler (right shoulder), safety Vincent Fuller (right shoulder), linebacker Keith Bulluck (left knee), center Kevin Mawae (calf) and guard Benji Olson (left thigh).

“We haven’t ruled anybody out at this point. Of all of them, I’m probably most concerned about Ryan at this point,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.

Fowler said he could not lift his right shoulder and felt tearing in his elbow after hitting the ground in the second quarter.

Fisher also said that linebacker Gilbert Gardner, who suffered a calf injury in Friday’s practice, would miss one to two more weeks.

Fisher added that defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth did not suffer a setback with his injured right hamstring, but played sparingly because he could not get the muscle to loosen up properly.

“We have a lot of things going on injury-wise. I don’t have a lot of specifics, other than we’re doing tests on a number of players.

“Albert just had a difficult time getting loose, I think because of the weather conditions,” Fisher said. “He didn’t have any setbacks. We’ve kind of been optimistic about the potential for him to practice. If there is ever a week for him to get back on the practice field, this would be the week, late in the week. I don’t expect him to do much on Wednesday or Thursday.”

HENRY EXEMPTION: The Titans have been granted a week-long exemption to ease running back Chris Henry back into the lineup. Henry returned to the facility Monday after serving his four-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. The substance was not a performance-enhancing drug.

When the Titans bring Henry back to the active roster, either before or after Sunday’s game with the Jets, they will have to remove a player from the 53-man roster.

“We will have [the exemption] through the weekend. We’ll just watch Chris and see how he is through the week and then we’ll make a decision,” Fisher said. “We can lift it at any point, but it makes sense to evaluate him on the practice field and take advantage of the exemption as long as you can. “

STILL WORKING: Fisher said the Titans still like Mike Williams despite his being inactive Sunday. Williams has yet to catch a pass for Tennessee, but his roster spot is not in jeopardy, according to Fisher.

“Mike has improved weekly. He’s working hard. We like what we see. We’re going to have a difficult decision,” Fisher said. “At this point, I’d say that Mike is not a potential for creating room for that spot. I think Mike has a future. We’re going to continue to work Mike. Mike was not active last week because of the uncertainty of the return situation, and we had to get Chris [Davis] back up for that.”

GETTING AWAY WITH IT: On David Thornton’s interception of Brodie Croyle that essentially sealed Sunday’s win, the Titans got away with having 12 men on the field, as nickelback Fuller failed to leave the field before the ball was snapped, but no flag was thrown.

“He was on the field. He was trying to get off,” Fisher said. “He was sore and struggling with the shoulder, and hustling. They actually snapped the ball. They weren’t set, but they hustled up and snapped the ball. So yeah, he was still exiting the field. He was probably a couple yards on the field when the ball was snapped.”

LEGAL PLAYS: Fisher said two calls that went against the Titans also should not have been flagged Sunday. He said that Vince Young’s lateral to LenDale White that was ruled an illegal forward pass was a legal lateral.

He also questioned the holding call on Michael Roos that nullified Young’s touchdown pass to Bo Scaife. The Titans settled for a Rob Bironas field goal on that drive.

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By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Just win our last two and be a Bengals fan against Cleveland! GO TITANS!

By: serr8d on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I'm not really concerned about the hoopnastics it would take to make the playoffs. At this point, it's enough to be in the stands watching the game.If I had any complaints, they would be about a couple games we should have won...especially that home game against Jacksonville. That stinker, and the opening loss to Indy were the only home losses. I still think that game against Indy was the best played of the year, even though it was a loss.

By: Cowboy84 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Like almost every other NFL team, you can find games they should have won, the Chargers, Bucs games; and games they should have lost, 1st Jags game, Falcons, Raiders all could have easily been losses. I don't see how any Titans fan can be too unhappy with this team this year, they are playing to get into the playoffs. A position fans in Philly, Detroit, Arizona, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Baltimore, New York, Carolina, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Denver, Oakland, Kansas City, Houston, Miami would love to be in.

By: nashbeck on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Just win out. Take care of the things you can handle.

By: junebugfan on 12/31/69 at 7:00

They should beat the Jets, although I'm sure it will be close with Fisher's "keep it close & find a way to win/make a play in the end" style. After reading this article's injury report, I'm slightly less optimistic about the Indy game. I'm sure they'll give a great effort regardless. That's one place where I'll give Fisher his props - he knows how to play Indy tough, even last year when Indy was dominating other teams, just as he knew how to play Pittsburgh tough when they were in our division. Looks like he can figure out how to game plan against a team after he plays them repeatdly for a few years, not so much against the other twenty eight teams in the league. Sorry - I really did try to keep it short here - I JUST CAN'T DO IT!! My coffee must be too strong.

By: MJB on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I love the N.F.L. math. I should add it to the list of things that I teach. Of course, if the N.F.L. got sensible & changed the schedule, we wouldn't have all this nonsense to go through: A regular season of eighteen games: two each against the other three teams in your division, & one against the other twelve teams in your conference. Only the four division winners make the playoffs. Wild card spots are silly.Yes, I'm rooting for the Titans, but wild card spots are still silly.

By: junebugfan on 12/31/69 at 7:00

MJB, that would definitely simplify things, but I think it's fun to watch a sub-500 team knock a better team out of the playoffs during week 17, and by doing so, bring another team in. Hey, at least it gives us Titans fans a reason to keep watching after having our hearts broken year after year! The formula seems to be drawn up by a rocket scientist at times, but at least it's entertaining watching the analysts squirm trying to figure it out on the spot. I have a suggestion for something else to take out of the game; - Any play in which an unusually small player utilizes his foot to launch the football OFF OF THE GROUND and through the air in an attempt to propel it over a fixed horizontal pole and between a set of fixed vertical posts. No disrespect to Bironas - he's clutch - but field goals simply suck and extra points are absolutely "pointless". Let soccer and rugby have that stuff! Kickers aren't looked upon as athletes by the rest of the players,and are made fun of by the commentators anyway. Let them kick off to open the game/2nd half, and after touchdowns. Football is a tough, violent, ego driven game, where extra points and field goals seem completely out of place.