The Tennessee Titans’ Super Bowl odds were dealt a serious blow this week with the news that running back Derrick Henry could miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.
Henry is set to undergo surgery on his foot on Tuesday morning. If everything goes well, the star running back could return to the field in 6-10 weeks, though there’s no guarantee he’ll return at all this season.
For a lot of teams, losing a running back isn’t a huge deal. Teams will plug and play and never miss a beat.
Henry, however, isn’t most running backs. He’s undoubtedly the best running back in the NFL. And the Titans’ offense is built around his skills. Without Henry on the field, it completely changes how opposing defenses approach the Titans.
So what are the expectations for the Titans — a team that is a legitimate Super Bowl contender — without Henry for at least the next six weeks?
I don’t think things change all that much as far as the regular season goes.
The Titans are currently 6-2 with nine games remaining this season. They’re playing in a weak division where they’re the only team that doesn’t have a losing record.
10 or 11 wins probably wins the division for the Titans. That means Tennessee needs to win four or five more games to lock up the division (unless the 3-5 Indianapolis Colts go on a miracle run, which seems unlikely given Carson Wentz’s propensity to carelessly throw the ball straight to a defender at least once a game).
The Titans have two games remaining with the 1-7 Houston Texans this season. They also play a New Orleans Saints team that just lost its starting quarterback (Jameis Winston is out for the year with a torn ACL), a not-so-great Miami Dolphins team, and the 1-6 Jacksonville Jaguars at home. That’s five wins potentially, which would get the Titans to 11 wins.
The other four games left on the Titans’ schedule are against the Los Angeles Rams on the road (a likely loss, as it’s the first game without Henry, but anything is possible), a road game against the New England Patriots, a road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a home game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Those are all tough games. But I think the Titans could steal at least one of those games. If that’s the case, then Tennessee would be looking at finishing with a 12-5 record. That would easily win the division and possibly give the Titans a first-round bye (this is obviously the best-case scenario if everything goes right).
Now, is all of that possible without Henry?
That’s the big question. And it’s hard to answer right now because we aren’t sure what the offense is going to look like moving forward. Wide receivers AJ Brown and Julio Jones (if he can stay healthy) are going to have to carry the team down the stretch.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Titans lose a game they shouldn’t (maybe the Saints upset them), and steal one they shouldn’t (on the road against Pittsburgh maybe?), and finish with 11 wins.
Ultimately, the only thing I think this changes in the regular season is the likelihood of Tennessee receiving a first-round bye in the playoffs. I think the Titans are fortunate to be in the AFC South where they can withstand this injury and still win the division.
However, if Henry doesn’t return in time for the playoffs, it’s curtains for the Titans’ Super Bowl aspirations. There’s no way this team is going deep in the playoffs without a healthy Derrick Henry in the backfield. It’s just not reasonable to expect a team to lose the potential MVP of the NFL (before the injury) and still make a deep playoff run.
The Titans should still win the AFC South, but unless Henry comes back, this will be a lost season for Tennessee.
Featured image via Kevin R. Wexler-NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK