The Tennessee Titans (8-2) host the Houston Texans (1-8) in an AFC South showdown between teams going in opposite directions.
On paper, this is a complete mismatch between these two teams. The Titans are surging at the moment and are legitimate Super Bowl contenders despite all the adversity they’ve been hit with. The Texans on the other hand… well let’s just say they’re not Super Bowl contenders.
Tennessee does have a history of the occasional letdown game so this game can’t be completely overlooked. Therefore here are five of the most intriguing storylines surrounding this AFC South showdown.
Can Titans make a statement against an inferior divisional opponent
After going through a gauntlet of 2020 playoff teams the last six weeks, the Titans have finally reached the Houston Texans portion of their schedule. The Texans are in complete disarray from the top-down and are just trying to get to 2022 at the moment.
The Texans currently have the 32nd ranked scoring offense (14.2 PPG), 32nd ranked total offense (280.1 YPG), 29th ranked scoring defense (28.7 PPG), and the 30th ranked total defense (385.9 YPGA).
While the Titans have won their last six games, Houston has lost their last six by a combined score of 182-61. If there was ever a week for the Titans to flex their muscles and run the score up on an inferior opponent, this is definitely the week to do so.
The Titans have won eight of their last nine games, the one loss being to the lifeless Jets and this fanbase hasn’t heard the end of it since. On behalf of the sanity of every Tennessee Titans fan, this team can not afford to lay an egg against Houston otherwise this fanbase should probably just avoid all major sports-network shows for a while.
Tennessee’s chase for the 1-Seed
As a Titans fan, how incredible is it that this team isn’t heading into thanksgiving week fluttering around .500 with their eyes set on one of those wild card spots?
The playoffs are all but locked up at this point but this Titans team has much bigger goals this season. Tennessee is currently 1.5 games ahead of everyone else in the conference for the coveted 1-seed which also comes with a first-round bye come playoff time.
That bye week in January would be massive for a team as banged up as Tennessee is. Not to mention that also provides the wiggle room to allow Derrick Henry an extra week of rest should he need it.
If the Titans are going to secure the 1-seed, they must take advantage of this feasible upcoming schedule that includes three games against the Texans and Jaguars.
Tennessee has set itself up to where they can afford a loss and still be on top of the AFC. However, with the Patriots, Steelers, and 49ers coming up on their schedule, they can not afford to have a letdown game against Houston of all teams.
Look for the Titans to try and make a statement at home with a wire-to-wire victory on Sunday.
Can the Titans’ pass rush continue to wreak havoc?
The combination of Harold Landry, Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, & Bud Dupree has accounted for 23.5 sacks this season. 21 of which have come when only rushing four guys (1st in NFL).
Tennessee’s defense is largely successful because of its ability to consistently get pressure without having to blitz.
Simmons and Autry are arguably the most dominant interior front in the entire league at the moment. The two have 16 sacks and 89 QB Pressures between them.
Big Jeff in particular is the one who’s legitimately approaching superstardom. The Mississippi State product has five sacks in his last eight quarters and that doesn’t tell half the story on just how disruptive he’s really been.
Outside of Simmons & Autry, you have the duo of Landry & Dupree. Landry in particular has evolved his game and is now the edge-rusher this Titans team has been yearning for.
The Boston College product is one of three edge-rushers along with Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt to have double-digit sacks (10), quarterback hits (19), and tackles for loss this season (10).
Dupree on the other hand has been looking healthier by the week. Unfortunately, he had a minor setback last week and is considered day-to-day with an abdominal injury.
Nonetheless, if Landry, Simmons, Autry, & Dupree can continue their dominance upfront against this lackluster Texans offense, Tennessee should be able to leave Nissan Stadium 9-2 and comfortably in first place with only one week left before their well-deserved bye week.
Which running back takes advantage of Houston’s 31st ranked run defense?
One thing that has become glaringly obvious over the last two weeks is just how spoiled we were by Derrick Henry. The Alabama legend routinely had 100-yard games and seemingly did it with ease. Unfortunately, since his departure, the Titans haven’t had a running back rush for more than 30 yards in a single game.
To be fair, it’s from ideal to start life without Henry against two of the best run-defenses in the league down in Los Angeles and against New Orleans. Especially when your two lead backs in Adrian Peterson & D’Onta Foreman weren’t even on the team a month ago.
This is why this is the perfect week to get a better idea of which running back is going to separate themselves from the pack. Peterson has the experience while Foreman has the spry legs and versatility to occasionally spare Jeremy McNichols who seems entrenched in the pass-catching role out of the backfield.
This week Tennessee’s committee of running backs gets to play against the 31st ranked run defense in the league. The Texans are allowing an average of 136.9 rushing yards per game and that bumps up to 149.6 rushing YPG allowed on the road.
All three running backs will get their fair share of touches against this Texans defense, but will either running back separate themselves from the pack?
Be on the lookout to see how Peterson, Foreman, & McNichols perform against an underwhelming Houston defense.
Does A.J. Brown continue his dominance over the Texans?
Ever since A.J. Brown has entered the league, he has been a nuisance for opposing defenses. The Ole Miss product was arguably robbed of the rookie of the year award in his first season and was an undisputed Pro Bowler by year two.
As great as Brown has been against the entire league, there’s one team in particular that the Titans’ receiver tends to shine even brighter against — the Houston Texans.
Tennessee’s third-year receiver averages over nine targets, six catches, 111 receiving yards, and one touchdown anytime he faces the Texans.
Brown has been on somewhat of a drought these last couple of games so facing a familiar opponent could help him regain that confident Alpha attitude we’re used to seeing out of him.
Look for the Titans to get the ball into Brown’s hands early and often in this one.