There were moments this season when Tennessee played with such force and vigor that a playoff berth seemed all but assured, something akin to a foregone conclusion given their offensive weapons.
But with five teams vying for four AFC playoff spots all sporting the same record, there are no guarantees for the Titans (10-5) on Sunday when they face the host Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.
“I think your approach is that you just have to do things that help you win,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of the pending sense of urgency. “You have to play complementary. You’ve got to take care of the football. You’ve got to try to get some turnovers, be sound in the kicking game. Not trying to do too much but go out and make plays and make plays to win the football game.”
The Titans rank third in the NFL in points (450) and fifth in yards (5,851) behind the imposing collective of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Derrick Henry and receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis.
Tannehill ranks fourth in passer rating (106.7) and seventh in touchdowns (32) while Henry is threatening to claim a second consecutive triple crown for running backs by pacing the league in attempts (344) and yards (1,777) while sitting one touchdown shy of co-leaders Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara (with 16 apiece).
Brown and Davis both have 60 receptions for 900-plus yards while Davis is tied for sixth in the league with 10 receiving touchdowns.
Yet Tennessee has been undone by its defense, which ranks 29th in yards allowed, and is now in need of relying on past playoff experience to navigate the potential landmines in Houston. In theory, the run to the AFC Championship Game last season should serve the Titans well on Sunday, but in a season where guarantees have been few and far between, nothing is certain.
“I don’t know that,” Vrabel said. “We’ve got to focus on the Texans and the challenges that they present and our ability to prepare. I think you try to take from the games that you’ve played and past experiences and try not to think that it’s going to guarantee success because it doesn’t. Each week and each play doesn’t mean anything about the next one. It’s just about finding a way to get there.”
The Texans (4-11) are aiming to get Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson through the season finale. Watson has taken his lumps in recent weeks yet has remained a dynamic force. But the blow he took to his throwing arm in the fourth quarter last Sunday against the Bengals was worrisome enough to lead some to suggest that Watson should sit and call it a season Sunday.
Watson has made it clear, however, that if he is healthy he will play. And by all accounts, he will.
“As far as I know, he’s doing pretty good,” Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said. “I haven’t heard that he’s not doing well, and so since I feel like he’s doing good, I hope he does good on Sunday, too.”