Two games played on Saturday have changed the landscape for the two teams that meet in Tennessee on Sunday. The win by the Houston Texans over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-20, clinches the AFC South Division for Houston, and relegates the Titans to the only possible berth in the playoffs through a Wild Card door.
The Titans fate is now no longer in their control, even if they win their final two games, today against the Saints and next week in Houston, when they play their division rivals for a second time in three weeks, the division belongs to the Texans. Earned mostly by virtue of their win last Sunday in Tennessee, 24-21.
The San Francisco 49ers victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night, 34-31, keeps the Niners in control of the possibility of earning the top seed in the National Football Conference playoffs. The 49ers travel to Seattle next week to meet the Seahawks to determine whether they are the top seed or fifth seed in the NFC postseason.
Even if the Seahawks lose to the Arizona Cardinals at home on Sunday, they could still earn the top seed with a win over the 49ers, but only if the Green Bay Packers lose one of their final two games, against Minnesota today and at Detroit next Sunday in their regular season finale.
The 49ers win means the only way the Saints could earn the top seed is to beat Tennessee today and the Carolina Panthers next week and have the 49ers lose to Seattle and Green Bay drop at least one of of their final two games, Monday night in Minnesota and next Sunday at Detroit.
What does all this mean?
It means the Titans are playing for their lives, win and have a chance, lose and start planning for next season. Which begs this question, does the fact that Tennessee is no longer in the hunt for their division title help or hurt their prospects today?
It may surprise you to learn it actually helps their chances of upsetting the Saints.
Tennessee is not taking the field with a slide rule running in their head about possibilities and chances to capture a division title, they are simply going into action knowing this, they have to win.
The Saints, conversely, have more angles and chances based on their final two weeks of results than a Rhesus Macaque experiences in the throws of a series of biological tests. They are also coming off an adrenaline high in last week’s Monday Night Football contest in which their quarterback, Drew Brees, passed Peyton Manning to become the all time number one touchdown completion leader.
Now they go to Tennessee, not knowing whether they have a chance to improve their playoff position even with a win, but know they are likely going to have their postseason slot determined as much by next week’s 49ers result in Seattle than their play today in Nashville. New Orleans own the tiebreaker over the Seahawks, based on a win in the Northwest in Teddy Bridgewater’s initial start in September when he replaced the injured Brees.
Physically, the Titans may or may not have the services of leading rusher Derrick Henry, but they do have something much more important. A clear objective without any distracting contingencies.
Qoxhi Picks: Tennessee Titans (+2½) over New Orleans Saints