The Tennessee Titans were dominant and methodical in Sunday's straightforward 34-3 victory over the previously-surging Miami Dolphins. Mike Vrabel's Titans never trailed and truly never broke a sweat en route to their 11th victory of the season. It goes down as a massive win for various reasons. Firstly, Tennessee clinched their second consecutive AFC South title, having officially outlasted the Indianapolis Colts, who they've already beaten twice this season. Winning your division is always notable, but quite possibly the best thing that occurred to the Titans on Sunday happened roughly 333 miles outside of Nashville. The Cincinnati Bengals claimed a thrilling, last-second win over the Kansas City Chiefs en route to a pretty amazing achievement of their own, having clinched the ever-competitive AFC North. Kansas City's unexpected defeat catapulted Tennessee into the top seed in the AFC, partially thanks to their convincing 27-3 Week 7 victory over the Chiefs. The Titans hold the tiebreaker over the Chiefs and now control their own destiny. They can claim the No. 1 seed, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win over the Houston Texans in Week 18's regular-season finale. Tennessee has achieved all of this while battling and fighting through more injuries than any other franchise in the NFL. The Titans have already shattered the NFL record for the most players used in a single season (a whopping 89), calling upon the likes of Woodrow Hamilton, Christian DiLauro, Joe Jones, Dylan Cole, and several other names I'd dare you to recognize. They lost superstar running back Derrick Henry in Week 8 and have managed to impressively win five games since then. It becomes more notable once you factor in injuries to A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, who have both been limited or hampered throughout the majority of the campaign, including throughout their recent Henry-less stretch. So why are we still disrespecting them? It's a difficult question to answer. Despite their positive withstanding, nobody expects the Titans to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVI. That metaphorical and meaningless honor belongs to the Chiefs, who have fairly earned that type of national respect. Patrick Mahomes and his Chiefs were arguably the hottest squad in professional football before Sunday's surprising loss to the Bengals. Sunday's string of results now likely means the road to SoFi Stadium will travel through Nashville, and not via the freezing cold temperatures often found at Arrowhead Stadium in January. It’s a notable development for the Titans and all AFC contenders. Even still, several analytical-driven mathematical truthers are out on the Titans, using made-up proprietary-based formulas such as DVOA and other acronyms to brush aside Tennessee's candidacy while simultaneously undermining their accomplishments. The Titans aren't particularly 'exciting' or 'trendy.' They don't have Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, and their star offensive player has been sidelined since Halloween. None of their current offensive starters were likely to help you clinch a fantasy football championship on Sunday. These facts may be partially responsible for why the masses (and math professors) generally don’t view them as a legitimate threat. Their offense has lacked the oomph they were expected to possess preseason with injury ravaging much of it (they’ve started *five* different left tackles), and they're currently averaging 24.4 points per contest, which ranks 15th in the league. It's mattered little as the postseason quickly approaches. Tennessee's wounded and underperforming offense has been carried by a haunting defense that plays with the overzealous attitude of their head coach while swarming to the football on a snap-by-snap basis. General manager Jon Robinson deserves a plethora of credit for transforming what was truly an awful defensive unit on all levels in 2020 to the soaring unit that's taken the field throughout 2021. The offseason additions of Bud Dupree and Denico Autry have helped form a fearsome front four while helping unlock the full potential of breakout stars Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry, both of which have already posted career-highs in sacks (Simmons with 7.5 and Landry with 12). The 31-year-old Autry equaled his career-high sack total on Sunday (9) and represents one of the best bang-for-your-buck deals signed in free agency. Theoretically, Dupree has underwhelmed in Year 1 of a five-year deal worth more than $80 million, but the former Pittsburgh Steeler is beginning to recapture his expected form, having recorded two sacks in his last three showings. He wasn't credited with a quarterback takedown against the Dolphins but spent a ton of time in Miami's backfield while making Tua Tagovailoa awfully uncomfortable. The Titans have undeniably been better and more productive with Dupree on the field. In 10 games with him, they’ve averaged 3.5 sacks and 17 pressures per game. In seven games without him, those numbers plummet to two sacks and 14 pressures per contest, per Pro Football Focus. Dupree is peaking at the right moment and helps complete this pass-rushing unit. Autry and Dupree aren't the only new faces that have fit in swimmingly. The acquisition of Zach Cunningham following his strange release from the Houston Texans has improved their inside linebackers group while arguably making them four-deep at the position. The 32-year-old Buster Skrine was added in late November due to mounting injuries and COVID-related issues at the cornerback position and has quickly made his mark while filling in on the outside opposite the excellent Kristian Fulton. Tennessee has been adding veteran journeymen on the fly without missing a beat. It really feels like they can do no wrong defensively at the moment, and the proof is in the numbers—the real numbers. Tennessee currently owns the league's sixth-ranked scoring defense, with a good chance to break into the top-five (or better) at the conclusion of next week's regular-season finale against the Texans. As we march toward the postseason, Tennessee has already proven its ability to string together victories over playoff-quality opponents, best captured by a four-game midseason stretch that saw them claim thrilling victories over Super Bowl contenders such as the Buffalo Bills, Chiefs, Colts, and Los Angeles Rams in Weeks 6-9. In fact, Sunday's win over the Dolphins gave the Titans their league-leading seventh victory over an opponent with a record of .500 or better in 2021. They own six wins over the current playoff field, NFC opponents included. Clinching the bye would mean Tennessee only needs to record three such wins to capture Super Bowl LVI. It may not happen, but it's certainly possible based on what we've witnessed. Sunday represented a notable day for the Titans, and the immediate future should provide a significant boost. A substantial reinforcement may be on the horizon as Henry is largely expected to return to Tennessee's backfield in time for the playoffs, according to multiple reports. It would provide a sizable shot-in-the-arm (or stiff arm) for an offense that’s fully capable of scoring 30 points per game when healthy. Pair that with their current form defensively, and you get a juggernaut worthy of the No. 1 seed. Henry isn’t the only Titan getting healthier. Friday’s injury report prior to Sunday’s beating of the Dolphins featured Tennessee’s shortest (and most encouraging) list of the season. Just one player, fourth-string defensive tackle Larrell Murchison, was ruled out prior to the game. This of course doesn’t count the players that currently reside on the COVID-19 List (Julio Jones and Jayon Brown, notably) or injury reserve, but it’s positive progress all the same. Once you factor in that Henry is the lone starter that remains on IR, and that may not be the case for much longer, it actually represents a miracle when compared to where they were just four, five, six weeks ago. You’d be hard-pressed to find a head coach around the league that cares less about what you think of his team than Vrabel does, who by the way, should win Coach of the Year for the miracles he performed with a weekly roster that's been hampered and decimated by constant overturn. The Titans are getting healthier as they impressively march toward their third consecutive playoff berth. They've taken on the personality of their head honcho while navigating through incredibly difficult waters for the majority of the injury-riddled campaign. They carry an anytime, anyplace, anywhere attitude. They out-physical their opponents. It's beginning to look like Nashville will host any and all of their AFC playoff contests. They've defied the odds while ignoring the negative connotations all throughout 2021. They may continue doing so well into February.
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