The Titans have clinched a second consecutive AFC South title and three straight playoff berth under Mike Vrabel going into Week 18 of the 2021 NFL season. This time, Tennessee also is tied for the AFC's best record at 11-5 and can go into the playoffs as No. 1 seed with home-field advantage and the lone bye.
Here's breaking down how the Titans can keep their favorable top spot going into the Super Bowl 56 tournament and also taking a look at just how far they can drop down in the seeding on Sunday:
What do the Titans need to do to get the No. 1 seed?
They can keep their spot in one of three ways in Week 18:
1. Titans win
This is the easiest and most likely scenario. Tennessee is a heavy road favorite at Houston. But the Titans also won't be taking the host Texans lightly, as they lost to them at home, 22-13 in Week 11. That would put the Titans at 12-5, either tied with the Chiefs or one game ahead. The Titans own the head-to-head tiebreaker because they beat the Chiefs at home in Week 7.
2. Titans tie but Chiefs lose or tie
This is almost like No. 1 but this would ensure that none of the three 10-6 teams behind the Titans and Chiefs — the Bengals, Bills and Patriots — can catchup in the standings. Tying the Chiefs in the standings but staying ahead of everyone else also locks down No. 1. Unfortunately for Tennessee, Kansas City is a massive road favorite, too, in its game at Denver on Saturday.
3. Titans lose but Chiefs lose, Bengals lose or tie and Patriots lose or tie
Tennessee would be asking for a minor miracle here to keep No. 1 by not beating Houston. On top of the Chiefs losing to the Broncos, the Bengals can't win on the road at the Browns and the Patriots can't win on the road at the Dolphins. The Titans, 11-6 in that scenario, would still be even with the Chiefs but still ahead of the Bengals and Patriots by either a half or full game.
4. Titans lose but Chiefs lose, Bengals lose or tie and Bills win
The Titans are 11-6 here again, tied with the Chiefs and ahead of the Bengals. But here, the Bills would also be 11-6 and win the AFC East over the Patriots. There are no issues in a three-way tie between the Titans, Chiefs and Bills because the Titans beat both teams.
How low of a seed can the Titans be in the AFC?
Should the Titans not take No. 1, they could end up either at No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4.
The Titans did beat the Chiefs and Bills. But they also lose tiebreakers to the Patriots (head-to-head from losing in Week 12) and the Bengals (conference record).
Implied by the No. 1 scenarios above, the Bengals are also in play for the No. 1 seed. Depending on the outcomes for the Chiefs and Bengals, the Titans are most likely to drop to No. 2 or No. 3 with a loss.
The only way the Titans can drop to No. 4 is if the Patriots win the AFC East by beating the Dolphins while the Bills lose as big home favorites to the Jets. That's on top of the Chiefs and Bengals jumping the Titans with wins while the Titans lose.
With outcomes ranging from gettrng a free pass to the divisional round to facing the toughest matchup in the wild-card round, the Titans shouldn't want to leave anything to chance beyond their control.