Titans firmly in driver's seat in AFC South race with favorable schedule ahead

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The tide has turned for the Tennessee Titans in the playoff hunt -- punctuated by their 45-26 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday that put them alone in first place.

According to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI), the Titans have a 96.7% chance of making the playoffs and an 88% chance of winning the AFC South. The Colts' chances of making the playoffs fell to 47.6%.

The Titans started the season 5-0, but their playoff hopes took a bleak turn after they dropped three out of four games in Weeks 7-10, including losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Colts.

"At 6-3, I don't think we were down and out," Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "But at the same time, we knew we had to play better if we wanted to separate ourselves from the pack. If we wanted to be a contending team, we couldn't play like we had played. Obviously now we have won two [in a row], two great wins. But we have to keep building and keep building. That way we improve into December and hopefully we're in the playoffs."

Sunday's win over the Colts along with a Week 11 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens pushed the Titans to the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoff standings with five regular-season games left.

"We were playing for first place," coach Mike Vrabel said after the game. "We beat the Ravens and the Colts on the road in back-to-back weeks. I think that's a start in the right direction. We have to continue to build on that and come back home to prepare for a new opponent with a lot of weapons."

The Titans do have a couple of potentially tough matchups remaining on their schedule, starting with next Sunday's home game against the Cleveland Browns (8-3), who would currently be a wild-card team.

Tennessee also has dates with the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10) and Detroit Lions (4-7) after the Browns game before traveling to Green Bay, where they'll face former offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur's Packers in Week 16. The Titans finish the season with a trip to Houston to face the Texans, who have won three of their past four.

The Colts have matchups with the Las Vegas Raiders (6-5) and Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0) mixed in with two games against the Houston Texans before finishing the season against the Jaguars.

Tennessee's playoff push times perfectly with Derrick Henry's annual December excellence. Henry trampled over teams in 2018 when he picked up 625 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in December before the Titans lost a "win-and-in" contest against the Colts for the AFC's final playoff spot.

Henry's 549 rushing yards and six touchdowns in December last year catapulted the Titans into a wild-card spot before they went on a run to the AFC Championship Game.

"Any time the O-line is getting movement and getting Derrick [Henry] going, it’s a good thing for the Titans. It’s the way we like to play. I think we’re at our best, obviously, whenever Derrick is rolling," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said after Sunday's win over the Colts.

Vrabel stressed the importance of being able to host playoff games at Nissan Stadium when he spoke after the AFC Championship Game loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in January. Going on the road for three consecutive games was a tall order for the Titans, even though Henry's otherworldly play led to two wins, including an upset of the top-seeded Ravens.

The Titans' physical style of play on both sides of the football is ideal for winning tough games down the stretch. Vrabel believes the win over the Colts followed the Titans' formula for winning games.

"Playing complementary football, playing better, coaching better," he said. "When you can run the ball for what we did and hold them to what we did, that’s the difference in the football game. That’s how you define physicality, being able to cover kicks and also the way they run the football and stop the run.”