The Tennessee Titans revealed Saturday that A.J. Brown will miss at least three games with chest, rib, and hand injuries suffered in Week 11 — the latest body blow to a roster that’s been crushed by strains and sprains in 2021. Could this mean the New England Patriots are the frontrunners for the No. 1 seed in the AFC?

Tennessee Titans place A.J. Brown on the injured reserve

Brown joins Titans teammates Derrick Henry, Julio Jones, Bud Dupree, and Caleb Farley on the injured reserve — five cornerstone pieces who will be unavailable for Sunday’s road game against the New England Patriots.

“Walking by faith as always. GOD makes no mistakes,” Brown, who leads the Titans with 615 receiving yards, posted on social media Saturday.

If it feels like the Titans’ Super Bowl hopes are teetering, it should. Yes, the Titans (8-3) enter the weekend atop the AFC standings and in control of their own playoff destiny. But Tennessee just lost to the worst team in the AFC (the Houston Texans).

Without Brown, Henry, and Jones — who account for more than half of Tennessee’s yards from scrimmage — it’s hard to see how Ryan Tannehill and the Titans can generate enough offense to keep pace, even with a much-improved performance in recent weeks from their defense.

Patriots 7-point favorites vs. Titans

The betting public agrees. The Titans are 7-point underdogs in Foxboro Sunday and would surrender the conference’s top seed to New England or Baltimore with a loss. A soft final five weeks to the season and two wins in hand against the Colts are probably enough for the Titans to hold onto the division title. However, a first-round bye seems highly unlikely.

There are just too many ascending teams in the conference — including the 7-3 Ravens (who have the league’s third-hardest remaining schedule), the 7-4 Chiefs, and the 7-4 Patriots, who are the hottest team in football.

The last five weeks have saved the Patriots’ season. The next five will essentially determine New England’s playoff positioning.

Mac (Jones) and the Pats play the Titans, Colts, and Bills twice between now and Boxing Day before closing out the season against the Jaguars and Dolphins. Those Bills games will probably decide the AFC East champion. That might be the conference’s last best chance to prevent New England from appearing in the AFC title game for the 14th time in the last 21 seasons.

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