A look at the AFC playoff picture from the Titans’ perspective

With Week 13 of the 2008 NFL regular season mostly in the books, it’s time to take a look at the AFC playoff picture, and possible scenarios for the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans currently stand atop the AFC with an 11-1 record.  The 1 loss is, of course, a conference loss to the Jets.  The remaining games are as follows:
Week 14 v.Cleveland
Week 15 @Houston
Week 16 v.Pittsburgh
Week 17 @Indianapolis


If the playoffs ended after this weekend, the Titans would be the AFC’s #1 seed with an 11-1 mark, two games clear of the #2 seed Pittsburgh Steelers and 3 games up on the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South.  So, let’s look at the scenarios.

Goal #1: Win the AFC South
The Titans are in an excellent position here, thanks to being well-positioned in the tiebreaking procedures.  In fact, there’s only 1 way for the Titans to not win the division: for the Titans to lose the rest of their games, and the Colts to win all their games.  Simple as that.  If the Titans win a game, or if the Colts lose a game, the Titans win the division.

Supporting evidence, looking at the tiebreakers:
1.  Titans beat or tie the Colts Week 17.  If this happens, the Titans are guaranteed to finish with a record no worse than that of the Colts, and will hold the tiebreaker based on head-to-head results.
2.  Titans beat the Texans Week 15.  If the Colts win out and the Titans only win this game, the teams will be tied with 12-4 records.  The first tiebreaker is head-to-head, and the second is record within the division.  The Colts have a 2-2 record within the division right now, and the Titans are 4-0.  If the Titans beat the Texans in Houston, their division record will be no worse than 5-1 and they are guaranteed to win the division.
3.  The Titans win any game or the Colts lose any game.  If the Titans lose to the Texans and Colts, the next tiebreaker is common opponents.  The Titans currently are 3 up in this category, as the Colts’ 3 non-Titans losses are all to common opponents and the Colts do not play the Jets.  The Titans’ remaining games are all against common opponents, however, so if they win once, they are guaranteed to win this tiebreaker.  If they lose out, their lead here will disappear.  As it happens, though, the Colts’ next 3 games are against Titans’ opponents.  If the Colts lose any of these games, Tennessee is guaranteed to win the tiebreaker in this category, even if they lose to the Colts and the Texans.

Goal #2: Home Field Advantage
The first thing to know is that the first tiebreaker to be broken is within the division.  So, if the Titans end up tied with the Colts, see above.  This analysis assumes the Titans finish ahead of the Colts-if the Titans don’t do that, the direct team-to-team tiebreaker results should be about the same, but Goal #2 will be out of reach.

There are three teams that may represent a viable threat to the Titans’ quest for home field advantage in the AFC playoffs: the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers.  I’ll break this down based on Titans’ final record, and who they end up tied with.
15-1:  Titans win HFA.
14-2:  Titans win HFA.
13-3:  If the Steelers are also 13-3 (which means they beat the Titans), Steelers are #1 based on head-to-head result, and Titans are #2.
12-4:  Titans win AFC South.  Where I say “only” below, if the Colts are 12-4, ignore them as they’ll be behind the Titans and ties within a division are broken first.
a.  If the Titans and Steelers are the only 12-4 teams, the Titans finish ahead of the Steelers if they beat the Steelers and behind the Steelers if they lost to the Steelers.
b.  If the Titans and Jets are the only 12-4 teams, the Jets finish ahead of the Titans based on head-to-head result.
c.  If the Titans and Ravens are the only 12-4 teams, the Titans finish ahead of the Ravens based on head-to-head result.
d.  If the Titans, Steelers, and Ravens all finish 12-4, first break the Ravens-Steelers tie, then see above.
e.  If the Titans, Jets, and Ravens all finish 12-4, the applicable tiebreaker is conference record, and the Ravens will win that.  The Titans then face off against the Jets, and lose the tiebreaker for that one as well.  Titans + Jets + Ravens 12-4 = Ravens #1, Jets #2, Titans #3.
f.  If the Titans, Jets, and Steelers all finish 12-4, and the Titans lose to the Steelers, the Titans are 3rd based on losses to both the Jets and Steelers.  If the Titans beat the Steelers, the tiebreaker is again conference record.  The Steelers would win this tiebreaker as well, and the Titans lose to the Jets still.  Titans + Jets + Steelers 12-4 = Steelers #1, Jets #2, Titans #3.
11-5: At this point, way too many scenarios to get into.  The Titans can win HFA, but too many permutations for me to type up.

So, here’s a rooting guide for Titans fans:
1.  Titans to win.  Every game, hopefully.  2, including the Steelers game, or 3, and a loss against the Steelers, will clinch HFA.  1 is enough to win the division.
2.  Colts loss or tie.  1 (Titans win/tie + Colts loss/tie) clinches the division for the Titans.
3.  Steelers loss.  3 (Titans wins + Steeler losses) means the Titans finish ahead of the Steelers.
4.  Ravens loss.  1 is enough to guarantee the Titans finish ahead of the Ravens in a head-to-head tiebreaker.  2 (Titans wins + Raven losses) means the Titans finish ahead of the Ravens.
5.  Jets loss.  2 (Titans wins + Jets losses) means the Titans finish ahead of the Jets.

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