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Titans playoff chances: Why ‘Thursday Night Football’ game vs. Cowboys won’t impact race with Jaguars

The last “Thursday Night Football” game of the season isn’t without consequence, but it’s as close to being inconsequential as can be.

The Cowboys are two games behind the Eagles in the NFC East, so they need Philadelphia to lose its last two. Nothing is at stake for the Titans; the AFC South will be decided in Week 18 when Tennessee plays Jacksonville, possibly in prime time, regardless of the outcome Thursday.

That creates a very weird situation for the Titans. They could bench their starters for this game. The AFC South winner is locked into the No. 4 seed, meaning they aren’t playing for position. And when a team leans on its running game the way the Titans do, it could be tempting to phone in a game against a defense as physical as the Cowboys’.

MORE: Get the latest injury updates on Derrick Henry ahead of Thursday night’s game

The final factor to consider is Malik Willis. With Ryan Tannehill out for the year following ankle surgery, it could be unwise for the Titans to throw a rookie quarterback to the wolves with the Cowboys having one of the toughest pass rushes in the NFL.

Why doesn’t Titans vs. Cowboys in Week 17 matter for the Titans?

The Titans and Jaguars are both 7-8 entering Week 17. To understand why their Week 18 meeting will be a play-in game and the Week 17 results don’t matter, it’s worth reviewing the NFL’s division tiebreakers.


Two Clubs

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.

There are four main scenarios for Week 17: Titans and Jaguars both win; Titans win and Jaguars lose; Titans lose and Jaguars win; Titans and Jaguars both lose. All of them have neutralizing effects. (Ed. note: Ties aren’t listed here, but the effect is still a win-and-you’re in Week 18 game.)

MORE: Start Week 17 off right with fantasy lineup advice for Cowboys vs. Titans

The first and fourth scenarios cancel out for obvious reasons. The middle two results are erased with the losing Week 17 team winning in Week 18.

If the Jaguars lose this week and the Titans win, then a Jaguars win in Week 18 would make both teams 8-9. The Jaguars, having won the teams’ first meeting in December, would hold the tiebreaker.

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With the second tiebreaker being record within the division, the Titans could erase a Jaguars Week 17 win by moving to 4-2 in the division in Week 18. The Jaguars would fall to 3-3 in the AFC South (again, this assumes a Jags win in Week 17 over the Texans).

With all that being said, there is one simple truth: The Titans and the Jaguars have to win in Week 18 to make the playoffs.

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