The Tennessee Titans (6-3) will be playing with house money Thursday night when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2), thanks in large part to their season high four-game win streak.
Their longest win streak since 2009.
The Titans were tabbed by many as the preseason favorite to end their near decade-long playoff drought, with the assumption that their ticket will be punched as the AFC South champion.
But at 6-3, with four straight wins over AFC opponents, the Titans have afforded themselves the luxury of making a playoff push…with or without said division crown.
Tennessee is currently fourth in the AFC standings. Jacksonville (6-3) and Buffalo (5-4) are fifth and sixth, and would own the two Wild Card spots if the season ended today.
Behind them are the Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, and Miami Dolphins with 4-5 records.
The Titans are a game up on Buffalo and two games up on the Ravens, Raiders, and Dolphins with seven left to play.
Tennessee is in the driver’s seat for one of the coveted six spots in the conference when looking at the remaining schedule for all involved.
Buffalo still has two games remaining against the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, and travel to Kansas City as well.
The Titans own the head to head tie breaker over the Ravens, who still have to go on the road to face Pittsburgh and Green Bay. They also have a home tilt with the red-hot Detroit Lions.
The Oakland Raiders play the Patriots this week, with upcoming games at Kansas City, home vs Dallas (when Ezequiel Elliott returns from suspension), and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Miami Dolphins have two games against the Buffalo Bills (meaning one team could effectively eliminate the other). Not to mention two games remaining against the Patriots.
As for the Titans, they face a tough road game against Pittsburgh Thursday. They also finish the season with the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars, albeit at home.
The other remaining games are against the Andrew Luck-less Colts, the Deshaun Watson-less Texans, the Carson Palmer-less Cardinals, and the San Francisco 49ers.
Translation….Tennessee is clearly in control of their own playoff destiny.
The talk heading into the season was to survive the first ten games (the toughest part of their schedule) and be within striking distance in the month of December to make a final push.
Tennessee has accomplished that goal, whether they leave Heinz Field with a win Thursday night or not.
Yes, the ultimate goal is to win the division. And no, no Titans fan would be happy with Jacksonville ending their division title drought before them.
But being a champion is a lot like the lottery. You have to be in it (playoffs) to win it.
Wild Card teams are not excluded, just ask the 99 team that went in as a Wild Card and came within a yard of possibly winning it all.
Other Wild Card teams (Baltimore, Green Bay, Pittsburgh) did hoist the Lombardi Trophy after failing to win their own division.
This is by no means a concession speech. The Titans can and should be division champs by season’s end, even if they have to sweep the Jags to do it.
I am just saying that it feels much better if you’re a Titans fan to have access to all the roads that lead to the playoffs, as the Titans do now.