For the Tennessee Titans, one goal remains in their historic regular season - home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Tennessee, 12-1 for the first time in franchise history, has an opportunity to reach that objective Sunday when it takes on the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.
If the Titans win and Pittsburgh loses to Baltimore, Tennessee will be at home throughout the AFC playoffs. The Titans, who have a two-game lead over the Steelers, host Pittsburgh next week.
Clinching home field could prove significant for Tennessee, which is 2-1 in its last three at home in the postseason but 1-3 in its previous four road playoff games. The Titans are 6-1 at LP Field this season.
With a 28-9 win over Cleveland last week, the Titans secured at least one home playoff game, a first-round bye and their first AFC South title since 2002.
“Our goal when we left the playoff game in San Diego, the day we came back, was to have a home playoff game this year,” said coach Jeff Fisher, whose team fell 17-6 to the Chargers in the wild-card round last season. “That was our first goal, first and foremost. We’ve now guaranteed that. We’ll move onto the next step hopefully.”
Tennessee can also tie a franchise record this week with its 13th victory, a mark set during its 1999 Super Bowl season and matched the next year.
The Titans ground game continued to roll last week, as Chris Johnson and LenDale White just missed consecutive tandem 100-yard performances. Johnson ran for 136 yards and White finished with 99, a week after Johnson had 125 yards and White 105 in a victory over Detroit.
Tennessee’s streak of 200-yard rushing games could reach three Sunday, as Houston’s run defense ranks 24th at 127.2 yards allowed per game.
The Titans also bring a resurgent defense into this game, as they allowed 178 yards versus Cleveland and a season-low 154 to Detroit. Tennessee, which gave up a season-high 409 yards in a 34-13 loss to the New York Jets on Nov. 23, is third in the NFL in total defense at 273.8 yards per game.
The Titans, however, face a challenge in one of the league’s best offenses and a team that has won three straight.
The Texans (6-8) are averaging 381.5 yards of offense on the season - third behind New Orleans and Denver - and boast the fourth-best passing attack in the league at 264.4 yards a contest.
Houston’s Matt Schaub returned from a four-game absence last week and threw for a career-high 414 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-21 win at Green Bay. The Texans rolled up a franchise-best 549 yards of offense.
In the teams’ first meeting of the season, a 31-12 Tennessee victory Sept. 21, Schaub set a record he’s rather forget. He threw a career-worst three interceptions, one of which was returned 99 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter by Cortland Finnegan.
Schaub will again face one of the league’s best pass defenses, as Tennessee is giving up 181.4 yards per game through the air. Finnegan and teammate Michael Griffin each have five interceptions, putting them among the league leaders.
That will put more pressure on Houston rookie running back Steve Slaton to continue his outstanding play.
With 120 yards versus the Packers, the third-round pick from West Virginia became the Texans’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Domanick Williams (formerly Davis) in 2004. Slaton has reached the 100-yard mark in three of the last four games and has 1,024 rushing yards on the season.
“To go to Tennessee and start that game, I don’t think any of us at the time had an idea of exactly how he was going to hold up, how he was going to play,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “Now we go into 12 weeks in a row with him being the starter and holding up. So it’s been a pleasant surprise.”
The Titans have won seven in a row against the Texans and lead the series 11-2. Tennessee is 5-1 at Reliant.