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For weeks there has been skepticism about the Tennessee Titans. They're going to get the No. 1 seed with a win Sunday against the 4-12 Houston Texans, but nobody seems to believe in them as a Super Bowl favorite.
But the Titans haven't been the Titans since the end of October. That's the last time Derrick Henry played.
Henry is probably the most valuable running back in football, and he's officially set to return. The Titans officially designated him to return from injured reserve. That means Henry can practice with the team and the Titans have 21 days to officially activate him to the roster.
Titans move Derrick Henry to "Designated for Return from Injured Reserve" list
Details 👑 » https://t.co/wXisfDJxRf
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) January 5, 2022
That move has been expected for a while, though the timing was up in the air. But now we can have a conversation about where the Titans fit in the Super Bowl picture, now that their best player is about to return.
Derrick Henry is NFL's top back
The most important thing to note about Henry is there's no guarantee he'll be the same right away.
Henry suffered what is known as a Jones fracture, a break in the fifth metatarsal of his foot. The most common timetable for that injury is 6-10 weeks, and it has been more than two months since he suffered the injury. It's still serious, especially for a running back.
Nobody is debating Henry's value. He still, somehow, is sixth in the NFL with 937 rushing yards despite not playing since Oct. 31. He's a phenomenal, unique football player. But we've seen great players come back too soon or struggle from an injury. It's just worth noting. Just because Henry will likely be back, at least for the divisional round, doesn't mean he'll be 100 percent of what he was.
But maybe he will be. And anyone who has watched the Tennessee Titans the past few years knows they're a different team with him.
Titans likely to get No. 1 seed
The Titans have put themselves in position to get the AFC's No. 1 seed while Henry missed about half of the season, which says a lot about the job coach Mike Vrabel has done. If the Titans beat the Texans on Sunday, they have the No. 1 seed and the conference's lone bye. They'd be two home wins from the Super Bowl.
Henry's return could bring the Titans from a team that didn't look as good as its record to one that might be underrated. Receiver A.J. Brown missed significant time too, and he has looked good upon his return. The Titans are 11-5 and have played many games this season without the best runner in football and a top 10-15 receiver. Ryan Tannehill is a different quarterback when he's not asked to do everything. The defense, which is very good up front, will presumably be even better with the offense eating up time of possession on long drives as Henry carries the load.
Henry is unique for many reasons, and one is that he's a true difference-making running back. What he does can't be replaced. He's been designated to return, and unless there's a setback he'll be back for the playoffs. That makes the Titans a different team, and they haven't been bad without him.
It makes the AFC playoffs a lot more interesting.