The Tennessee Titans are the best team in the NFL, and that's great. But the best team in the NFL halfway through the season is guaranteed nothing down the road beyond the playoffs.
You can look it up. I did.
|You might want to hold off on the celebrating, Titans fans. (US Presswire)|
There is nothing discouraging about those numbers. In fact, if you're a Titans fan it means you have a 71 percent chance of spending February in Tampa with your favorite pro football team, which means you can start booking flights to Super Bowl XLIII now.
But there is one line of fine print that is worth noting, and that is this: Of those four teams that failed to go the distance, two of them have been among the last four to start 8-0.
One was the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs. They lost their only playoff game. The other was the 2005 Indianapolis Colts. They lost their only playoff game, too. Both had strong starts -- with the Colts winning their first 13 -- but tired in the stretch.
The Colts lost three of their last four, and, granted, they mailed it in for a couple of late-season losses. Nevertheless, they fizzled when it mattered most. The Chiefs did somewhat the same thing, losing four of their last eight.
So what? So there is a lesson there for Tennessee, and it goes something like this: Runaway starts are great, but runaway finishes are greater.
Think back to last year's New York Giants. They didn't clinch a playoff spot until the next-to-last week of the season, but they got hot at exactly the right time -- winning seven of their last nine.
0ne of those defeats was a season-ending game with unbeaten New England, an oh-so-close call that convinced the Giants they could play with the Patriots. And they could, proving it five weeks later in Arizona.
In 2006 the Colts won their first nine, then floundered on defense without safety Bob Sanders -- and stop if you've heard that before. Once he returned they regained their equilibrium, bottled up opponents' rushing attacks and won their first Super Bowl with Peyton Manning.
The year before that we had the Pittsburgh Steelers, all but dead after a three-game losing streak had them sitting 7-5 in December. But they caught fire when it was critical and won their last eight -- including a playoff defeat of that Indianapolis club that won its first 13.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were in a similar position, sitting 5-3 at the break and trying to get something, anything out of the quarterback position. So they substituted Trent Dilfer for Tony Banks, won their last 11 and went to Disneyworld.
The point is: If history teaches us anything it's not to get too caught up with what's happening at midseason.
Yes, the Titans' achievement is impressive. Heck, they've won their last 11 regular-season games. But they better be careful because there are land mines out there, and Tony Dungy is only too happy to point them out.
"My theory on football is that the season does not start until November 1," said NBC's Cris Collinsworth, who joins the NFL Network for this week's Denver-Cleveland game. "The first two months are real fooler months."
|8-0 starts since merger|
Nobody is fooled about what's going on in Tennessee. The Titans are a complete team, able to beat you with the league's seventh-ranked defense or its fourth-best rushing attack. What they won't do is beat themselves, and tell me that doesn't sound like the 2000 Ravens.
Tennessee holds a four-game lead on defending division champ Indianapolis and should win the AFC South in a breeze. But that's where it gets interesting, Titans fans, and no need to remind you what can happen in January.
The only time Tennessee made it to the Super Bowl was 1999, after the Titans chased down a mighty Jacksonville club that won 13 of its first 14. The Jags lost only twice that season, but both times it was to Tennessee.
They made it a perfect three in the AFC Championship Game.
Tennessee will make the playoffs, and probably go deep into them. After all, only two of the 14 teams that won their first eight starts since the merger failed to reach conference championship games.
But one of those was in 2003. The other was in 2005. You can call it an aberration, or you can call it a trend. Either way, the Tennessee Titans should pay attention.