NFL Playoffs

Here’s a crazy scenario: The Titans can still clinch a first-round bye

There’s a lot at stake for the Tennessee Titans in Week 17, and as unlikely as it is they can earn a first-round playoff bye.

Despite being easily labeled as a mediocre team, the Tennessee Titans are 9-6 this season with a four-game winning streak going heading into Week 17 against the Indianapolis Colts. The game has been flexed into Sunday night, which points to its importance.

In the simplest terms, the Titans will clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Colts. The AFC South title is still in play for both teams, if the Houston Texans lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Titans have the remote possibility for something more.

If the Texans and New England Patriots lose earlier on Sunday, and Baltimore Ravens lose or tie, the Titans can clinch a first-round playoff bye by beating the Colts. All three teams are at least six points favorites right now though, and all three play at home where they are each at least 5-2 and a combined 17-4 this year.

The Titans beat the Patriots, so they own the simplest tiebreaker there. But they lost to the Ravens, and need them to lose and finish with a worse record. A win over the Colts and a Texans’ loss to Jacksonville would give the Titans the better division record.

A major complicating factor for Tennessee is the status of quarterback Marcus Mariota. He left Week 16 against the Washington Redskins with a stinger, and he also left the first game against the Colts with the same issue. Blaine Gabbert played well against Washington (7-for-11 for 101 yards and a touchdown), but relying on him to start such a crucial game is obviously a recipe to lose and miss the playoffs. Due to the question over Mariota’s status, the Titans signed Austin Davis earlier this week as a healthy backup option.

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Regardless of who is under center for them, the Titans may be able to scrape together a win over the Colts and make the playoffs. But if Mariota can’t go and can’t get right in time for a playoff game, there’s no real need to cringe at a remote scenario where Gabbert would start a Divisional Round game after the Titans earned a bye.

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