The Tennessee Titans ended their eight-year playoff drought, but what are their chances of making a run?
After an eight-year playoff drought, the Tennessee Titans are finally back in the playoffs. For a team that has only been to the playoffs five times since their Super Bowl Loss in 1999, this year’s team has provided a lot of optimism that the team is headed in the right direction.
Led by third year quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Titans will look to shock the rest of the AFC and make their first Super Bowl appearance since their heartbreaking loss to ‘The Greatest Show on Turf” Rams. Their tough road to Minneapolis begins with a game in Kansas City where they are playing a Chiefs team that will be well rested after having many key players sit out in week 17.
Offense: QB Marcus Mariota, RB Derrick Henry
The two former Heisman trophy winners have been critical to the Titans’ success all year long. While DeMarco Murray was the starter for 15 games, Henry is actually the leading rusher with 744 yards. Additionally, Henry has been far more effective with his touches with a better yards per carry and yards per reception. Murray will likely miss this weekend’s game because of a torn MCL, but even if he tries to play through it, Henry should get the majority of the carries.
With high expectations coming into the season, Mariota clearly took a step back. He has fewer touchdowns and more interceptions than he had in his first two years. However, when he has played well, the Titans have proven to still be a dangerous team. Tennessee is 5-1 this year when he posts a passer rating above 90. For Mariota to play well this weekend and help the Titans move on, he is going to need leading receiver Delanie Walker and possibly rookie Corey Davis to step up.
Defense: CB Adoree’ Jackson, DT Jurrell Casey
The rookie cornerback from USC is a unique player due to his ability to affect the game in so many ways. He is the third-leading tackler on the team and has a team-high three forced fumbles. Jackson is also one of the most prolific returners in the league. He is averaging 8.2 yards per punt return and 23.1 yards per kick return, which ranks 15th and sixth in the NFL respectively. In the playoffs, the importance of good field position is tremendously understated. If Jackson can have one or two big returns that help flip the field, it will go a long way toward giving the Titans a chance at the upset.
Casey has been the anchor of the Titans’ defense since coming into the league in 2011. He has six sacks and 41 tackles on the season, which helped him earn his third straight Pro Bowl selection. His stellar play has made the Titans an elite defense against the run. They only give up 88.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth in the NFL. This could be the key for Tennessee because four of the five other AFC playoff teams rank top-10 in rushing yards per game. Forcing the Titans’ opponents to be one dimensional gives them their best possible shot at winning in the postseason.
Best Win and Worst Loss
Best Win: 15-10 over Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 17)
Despite a three-game losing streak heading into week 17, the Titans still had a win-and-get-in scenario. They were playing a Jaguars team that had no playoff implications on the line, but they didn’t rest any starters because Doug Marrone wanted to regain their momentum heading into the postseason. Tennessee’s defense put together its best performance of the season, holding the Jaguars offense to just three points, while forcing four turnovers.
Mariota played clean football for the most part with 194 total yards, one touchdown, and no picks. However, he had one mishandled handoff that gave the Jaguars’ defense seven points. If it weren’t for that one mistake, this would’ve been a 15-3 victory that in reality was never that close. With their season on the line, they played by far their most impressive game of the year.
Worst Loss: 40-17 to Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 11)
This was a Thursday night matchup between the 6-3 Titans and 7-2 Steelers that was expected to be tight, but Tennessee played their worst game and were embarrassed on national television. Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with Antonio Brown 10 times for 144 yards and three touchdowns. The Titans’ defense had no answer for the Steelers’ offense, while Mariota had his worst game as a pro, throwing a career-high four interceptions. The fact that this game wasn’t even competitive showed that Tennessee might not have been ready to compete with the top tier teams in the AFC.
Previous Matchups With Playoff Teams
Week 2: 37-16 win at (3) Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 11: 40-17 loss at (2) Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 16: 27-23 loss vs (3) Los Angeles Rams
Week 17: 15-10 win vs (3) Jacksonville Jaguars
Positives: The Titans have played well the past two weeks against playoff teams. The game against the Rams could have gone either way, while the Titans thoroughly outplayed the Jaguars. There is a clear correlation with how the defense plays and the outcome of these games. The team is allowing only 13 PPG in wins compared to 33.5 PPG in losses. If the Titans’ defense plays to its fullest potential, that allows the offense to play conservatively and not put too much on Mariota’s shoulders.
Negatives: Tennessee is 2-0 vs. the Jaguars this season, but the bad news for the Titans is they can’t play Jacksonville unless they both make the AFC Championship. As a result, the Titans are most likely going to have to win road games in Kansas City, in New England, and in Pittsburgh on their way to the Super Bowl. The cards are clearly stacked against them, having already lost in Pittsburgh this year and needing to go into Foxborough to win a game, where Tom Brady has only lost three playoff games his whole career.
Performance Leading Into the Postseason:
Tennessee lost three of the last four games of the year, with the exception of Week 17’s victory over the Jaguars. The three losses came at Arizona, at San Francisco, and at home to the Rams. The defense has played very well over this stretch, surrendering only 18.5 PPG, but the offense wasn’t able to convert enough opportunities to translate the defense’s success into wins. Mariota’s offense has only averaged 17 PPG over the last month and has turned it over at least once in every game. Tennessee will look to keep the momentum of their Week 17 win heading into the postseason.
Level of Contender: Low
Tennessee would have to switch to a gear of play they haven’t yet displayed this season in order to make their way to Minneapolis. Their defense, although elite against the run, is 25th against the pass, which isn’t nearly good enough to stop Alex Smith, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger in consecutive weeks. This would force Mariota to try to outscore these quarterbacks, which he hasn’t shown an ability to do. Even if they are able to pull of the upset this weekend in Kansas City, they will likely be home watching Super Bowl 52 like the rest of us.
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