Dec 12, 2021 - Sports

The Titans' path to the Super Bowl

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans (8-4) still hold the division lead, but their perch atop the AFC South is precarious after consecutive losses.

  • The good news? Tennessee's remaining schedule is the easiest in the league.

How they got here: After a 2-2 start, the Titans rattled off six straight wins. The problem? Since losing Derrick Henry to a foot injury Oct. 31, cracks have begun to show.

  • By the numbers: They've averaged just 19 points in the past four games (33 in the previous four), including a 13-point showing in a loss to the Texans, ending Houston's eight-game skid.
  • Henry isn't the only star missing. A.J. Brown is on the injured reserve and Julio Jones has played just six games. Credit coach Mike Vrabel for patching together a first-place team in spite of such adversity.

State of play: Today's a huge opportunity for a get-right game, with the lowly Jaguars coming to town and Jones returning from injury.

  • With a win, the Titans open up a two-game lead on the Colts, who are on a bye this week. With a loss, they're looking at an uncomfortably tight final month in the NFL's inaugural 18-week season.
  • If it comes down to the final week, they've got to like their chances in a rematch with two-win Houston, particularly since they swept the Colts and thus own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The big picture: The Titans are still in good shape to complete their sixth straight winning season and earn their third consecutive playoff berth, and if Henry returns by then — as it appears he's in line to — they could go right back to looking like a juggernaut.

3 players to watch
Derrick Henry, Harold Landry and Kevin Byard. Photos: Andy Lyons/Getty Images; Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The question of whether this is another fine, commendable season for the Titans instead of a special and historic one season for the Titans could hinge on whether Henry returns from a foot injury.

  • After just eight games, Henry had already gained 937 yards to lead the NFL — 300 yards ahead of his nearest competitor.
  • The latest: There's reason for optimism. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported this week the expectation is Henry is "coming back later in the season."

In addition to Henry's return, the Titans will need continued great performances from the defense.

Two leaders on that side of the ball are ...

The rising star: Edge rusher Harold Landry has been a revelation this season.

  • He has already set career highs in sacks, tackles for a loss and quarterback hits, complementing the ferocious interior rush of Jeffrey Simmons and Denico Autry.

The hometown hero: Former Middle Tennessee standout Kevin Byard has returned to his All Pro ways this season to stabilize a makeshift secondary.

  • He has five interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Creating turnovers to help a stumbling offense will be even more important for the Titans down the stretch run.
Injury woes
Data: Sports Illustrated; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

This injury-ravaged season could mark Vrabel's most impressive performance to date.

  • The Titans have set an NFL record for most players used in a regular season with five games still to go — and they're still at the top of the AFC South.

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