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Bump to the Playoffs
by Dennis Ranahan

The National Football league kicks off Week 16 with a Saturday doubleheader today involving four teams that have a chance to earn a playoff berth. The first game, played in Nashville, has the Tennessee Titans hosting the Washington Redskins in a 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time start, with the Baltimore Ravens visit to Los Angeles and the Chargers the late game.

Now, while all four of these teams still have a mathematical chance of cracking their conferences playoff field, in fact, only the Chargers have a clinched postseason date and the Ravens, Titans and Redskins are all on the outside looking in. Washington having a chance to earn a postseason bid is a lot like Paris Hilton in a spelling bee, they need a lot of help.

The more intriguing team is Washington’s opponent today, the Tennessee Titans. The home team in the early game is two back of the AFC South Division leading Houston Texans, who are 10-4 on the season while the Titans have an 8-6 won/loss record. A win by the Texans tomorrow in Philadelphia, where they are currently posted as an underdog, would relegate the Titans playoff possibilities to only a Wild Card spot.

The Baltimore Ravens currently have the edge on the Titans for the only AFC Wild Card spot available, but these two teams have equal won/loss records and Baltimore is the underdog for their game tonight against the Chargers. In other words, with a win and Ravens loss, the Titans would move into that final Wild Card slot entering the final week. Even if both Baltimore and Tennessee were to win today, the Titans could move into a Wild Card slot with one week to play if the Steelers lose in the Big Easy tomorrow.

I don’t think the Redskins have the talent available to stay in the playoff hunt after today. Injuries has turned a once first place team with a veteran signal caller into a makeshift squad operating behind a quarterback that was on his couch and out of football last month.

The Titans earned a playoff Wild Card berth last season, won their first postseason game in Kansas City, and after a Divisional Round loss to the New England Patriots, fired their head coach. The team had decided long before the Titans got into the postseason, or won that first game against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, that they wanted to replace Mike Mularkey, who had taken over for the fired Ken Whisenhunt seven games into the 2015 season.

While it is somewhat strange that a coach that just led your team to the playoffs to break a nine year drought, and then won a postseason game as a road underdog, would be ousted after the season, team decision makers had their reasons. The Titans management had eyes on bigger things, and deduced that Mike Vrabel, who comes into his first NFL head coaching position with first hand lessons as both a player and coach from one of the best, Bill Belichick, was the man to take the Titans to their first ever Super Bowl victory.

If last week’s performance in New York is used as a yardstick, the move to Vrabel looks very solid. A year ago, even though they later cracked the playoff field, the Titans had a huge game for their postseason prospects in San Francisco against the 49ers, a team that had a terrible start to their 2017 season but was rolling down the stretch. The Niners beat the Titans, 25-23, in that key game last December.

The New York Giants had a terrible start to their season this year, but were rolling down the stretch when Tennessee met them on the road last week. This year, the Titans seized their opportunity and shutout the Giants, 17-0.

Which means this, they were able to win in a similar spot they lost in last year, which bodes well for them winning today against a depleted Redskins squad.

While I like the Titans, the Ravens are a money play for us today.

They need this game and have an opportunity to take over first place in the AFC North Division if a Baltimore win is coupled with a Pittsburgh Steelers loss tomorrow in New Orleans. The Saints are currently favored by a touchdown in that one, while the Ravens are four point underdogs to the Chargers tonight.

The Chargers have roared back from early season losses to the Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams to match both those teams with an 11-3 season record. Last week, the Chargers caught the Chiefs in the standings with a dramatic come-from-behind win at Arrowhead Stadium. Even with the win, the Chargers remain behind Kansas City for the top seed in the AFC based on the Chiefs having a better divisional record. The only Kansas City AFC West loss was last week, while the Chargers lost both their opening game to the Chiefs and a mid-season home affair against the Denver Broncos.

By my count, the next glorious days in this season for Philip Rivers and company will happen in the playoffs. Today, they meet a team looking to join that postseason group, and while the Chargers are carrying the motivational burden of coming off a huge win last week, the Ravens are only focussed on what they need to do to win this one.

Plenty of Chargers success to come this season, but their run to the playoffs edures a bump against the Ravens tonight.

Qoxhi Picks: Baltimore Ravens (+4) over the Los Angeles Chargers