On the surface, this game appears to be a throw away game, especially by NFL standards. It's Week 16, and while everyone else is jockeying for playoff positions, the Tennessee Titans (8-6) are visiting one of the worse teams in the NFL, Jacksonvile Jaguars (2-12). Factor in that Tennessee has already destroyed the Jaguars earlier in the season on national television, and there is very little compelling about this game, on the surface. But let's dig a little deeper.
TIGHT DIVISIONAL RIVALRY
It may sound a little cliché, but let's throw out the overall records, the playoff positioning, and the fact that we have two teams going in different directions. This is one of the younger rivalries in the NFL, but it's also one of the more competitive.
Since 2010, the Titans lead the series 7-6, by virtue of their win earlier this season. The Titans will come into Saturday afternoon with a 2-game win streak in the series and a chance to sweep the season series. Neither team have had a season sweep against the other since 2008 (when the Titans swept the Jaguars), and neither team has had a 3-game winning streak since 2006 (when Jacksonville won 3 consecutive games over Tennessee from 11/20/2005-11/5/2006).
Although most stat categories lean toward Tennessee since 2010, it's a very slight lean. Titans lead in points scored (+40), rush yards (+38), pass yards (+280), and turnover differential (+3).
MUST-WIN IN MUSIC CITY
Tennessee has a very direct route to the playoffs: win and you are in. However, it's also a very straight and narrow route to the playoffs. The Titans are walking on the edge of a cliff with a parachute that may or may not be packed correctly, so they're hoping that they don't need to pull the cord on it.
The Titans are tied with the Houston Texans atop the AFC South, but they have no possible route to win a tie-breaking scenario. So, a loss in Jacksonville could eliminate them from contention for the AFC South crown, and automatic bid into the playoffs.
If the Titans are upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Christmas Eve, they would need two Miami Dolphin losses AND two Baltimore Ravens losses AND a Denver Broncos loss in order to claw their way into a #6 seed Wildcard playoff spot.
Nashville doesn't want to consider the nightmarishly improbable list of needs should Jacksonville play spoiler to their team, and everyone in the region has a Titan win on the top of their list to Santa this weekend.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR THE FINALE
Very few gave the Titans a chance to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions. Even fewer offered hope that they could go on the road in single-digit temperatures at Arrowhead with a Hawaiian quarterback and upset the #2-seeded Chiefs. Fewer still were the number of people who believed Succop could kick a game-winning 53-yard field goal in the conditions on the last play of regulation in a 17-16 game. However, Tennessee accomplished all these things.
Going into the games, all of these things were must-accomplish goals, if the team had any hopes of making the playoffs. Because of early struggles in division play, the Titans dug themselves into a hole at mid-season. After losing at Indy in Week 11, they knew that they needed to win out and finish 10-6 to have any shot at a playoff bid. So far, so good.
With the playoffs essentially starting Week 12 in Nashville, the Titans have answered every bell. They haven't made it easy on themselves, but they have came out on top each week. After jetting out to a huge lead Week 12 in Chicago, they narrowly survived a very game Bears team by 6 points. After looking great early against the Broncos, the Titans were scoreless in the second half, and required a forced fumble in the final minute of the game to win by 3. Finally, after fumbling twice in the first quarter and putting themselves in a 14-0 deficit against the Chiefs, the Titans rallied to outscore Kansas City 19-3 in the final three quarters to win by 2. The win-margin has been shrinking each week, but it can't get much closer than that.
If the Titans win in Jacksonville, then it will officially be a win-and-you're-in game when they host Houston in Nashville in the final week of the regular season.
PREDICTION: TITANS 34, JAGUARS 20