This just in…
The Tennessee Titans are not the New England Patriots. They are not the Pittsburgh Steelers…
Their offensive weapons will not carry your fantasy team to a championship, and they will rarely be featured on SportsCenter’s Top Ten Plays of the week.
But when analyzing the common thread among playoff teams of the past, the Titans are checking off most of, if not all of those boxes.
Beating teams you’re supposed to beat
Playoff caliber teams rarely lose to lesser opponents, and the Titans have checked that box all season long.
The Titans took advantage of a banged up Texans team Sunday like they were supposed to do. They swept the Andrew Luck-less Colts like they were favored to do. They knocked off the Browns and the Bengals…as they should have.
Their only questionable loss this season was to the Miami Dolphins when Marcus Mariota sat out with an injured hamstring. So that deserves an asterisk.
Last season the Titans were swept by the inferior Colts and lost a crucial road game to the underdog Jaguars in week 16. Coupled with questionable losses to Minnesota (who had a journeyman 36-year-old backup qb starting) and a disappointing Chargers team, and you see why Tennessee missed the playoffs, albeit by a single game.
While beating the sisters of the poor is nice, playoff caliber teams must also notch statement wins in order to separate themselves from the pack in the parity-filled NFL.
Tennessee has three statement wins over winning teams that are currently holding a playoff spot as it stands today. Jacksonville (8-4), Seattle (8-4), and Baltimore (7-5).
Playoff caliber teams rarely beat themselves
Say what you want about the Titans’ offensive inconsistencies this season (and there’s plenty to say about that), they don’t give games away. You have to take it from them.
Tennessee is one of the least penalized teams in the league. And while Mariota’s interceptions are up from a year ago, the Titans are among the league’s elite when it comes to fewest amount of fumbles lost and dropped passes by their receivers.
Running the ball and stopping the run
When it comes to December and January football, the high-wire areal offenses often find it difficult to move the ball in torrid winter weather.
With the top seeds in the AFC playing in outdoor stadiums on the east coast and midwest (Kansas City), you must be able to run the ball and stop the run to survive and advance.
Luckily for Tennessee, that’s their calling card.
The Titans are currently 7th in the league in rushing yards per game (122.1) and yards per carry (4.5). They are also second in rushing touchdowns with 16.
On the other side of the ball, Tennessee’s defense has been stingy against the run.
The Titans are third in rushing yards allowed per game (86.2) and haven’t given up 100 yards rushing to a team in eight weeks. The longest active streak in the NFL.
Last but certainly not least, playoff-destined teams share a unique quality, a belief system that allows them to snatch victories from the jaws of defeat.
The Titans have walked that tightrope far too often for their fans’ liking this season, nevertheless, they continue to pull out wins late in games.
Sometimes it’s a big drive by Mariota and the offense. Sometimes, and most often this season, it’s the defense that steps up and makes a play to pull out a close victory.
Regardless of the method, the Titans have routinely staged comeback victories late in games when there is no more room for error.
Add that up and you have all the ingredients of a playoff team. It’s never pretty, it’s never settled long before the final whistle, but it’s winning football.
Something the Titans haven’t had to this degree in quite some time, so Titans fans should enjoy it for what it is.