Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (15) celebrates with teammates after a touchdown catch against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Quick: Name the team who you have heard about the most during the NFL playoffs. It wasn’t the Tennessee Titans, was it? It’s OK. For some reason, despite having one of the best records in the NFL at 12-5, the AFC's No. 1 seed has flown under the radar.

Here are some reasons why that has happened — and why you should not sleep on Tennessee going into Saturday's divisional playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals.


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Lack of a big-name quarterback

Ryan Tannehill is a middle-of-the-pack quarterback. He ranked 20th in the NFL in passer rating (89.6) and 16th in passing yards (3,734) and touchdown passes (21), and he tied for the league's sixth-most interceptions with 14. Tannehill, who has been to one Pro Bowl in his nine-year career, also gets sacked a lot. His 47 sacks this season were second behind Joe Burrow, his counterpart in Saturday’s game who was sacked a league-high 51 times. There’s not a ton of reasons to talk about Tannehill.

Even with franchise cornerstone Derrick Henry out since Halloween, the Titans remained more of a running team than a passing team, averaging 143 rushing yards while winning four of their last five games. With the NFL postseason spotlight focused on star quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Burrow, it’s easy to forget what a threat the Titans can be.

Henry, who was headed for a third-straight NFL rushing crown before injuring his right foot, returns after a nine-game absence. The key for Tannehill on Saturday is just to play competently.

The defense isn’t flashy

Like its quarterback, Tennessee's defense isn’t breaking records. In a year that T.J. Watt tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack mark of 22 1/2, the Titans pass rush spread the wealth. Of their 47 sacks, Harold Landry had a career-high 12 and Denico Autry tied his single-season best with nine. Jeffery Simmons, the Titans' 2019 first-round pick, also recorded the most sacks of his three-year career with 8.5.

It’s a similar story with interceptions. Tennessee is ranked 10th in the league with 16 picks. Pro Bowl free safety Kevin Byard led the team with five INTs.

The Titans ranked 12th in yards allowed (329.8 per game) and sixth in points allowed (20.8 per game). The way they defend doesn't make for great highlights, but it is effective. Tennessee was made in the image of its head coach, Mike Vrabel, who won three Super Bowls as a player.

They play in the AFC South

It's not the Titans' fault that their division included the NFL's worst team, the Jaguars (3-14), and the equally dysfunctional Texans (4-13). The second-place finisher, the Colts, only needed to win their regular-season finale to make the playoffs, but they ended up suffering an embarrassing loss in Jacksonville.

Tennessee went 5-1 in the AFC South, losing only to Houston at home to break a six-game win streak that included victories over the Bills and Chiefs in Nashville and an impressive prime-time triumph over the Rams in Los Angeles.

Putting together 12 victories in an NFL season isn’t easy, but some of the Titans' losses really stick out. They started the season by getting routed 38-13 by the Cardinals, and three weeks later, they fell in overtime to the lowly Jets. They dropped back-to-back games to the Texans and Patriots, managing only 13 points in each contest. In its last defeat, Tennessee turned the ball over four times against the Steelers.

In each loss, the Titans struggled to play like themselves. Three of their wins also came in overtime. However, Tennessee has been through difficult games and bounced back strong after losing Henry, its offensive engine and best player. The Titans learned how to finish games and ended the season with three wins in a row to earn home-field advantage in the AFC. Their resiliency and toughness are qualities that should serve them well in the playoffs.

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