The AFC South Crown
Since the turn of the decade, the Texans have shockingly won six division crowns since 2010. Even more shocking, the Titans have not won the AFC South since 2008 after they got off to a hot 10-0 start.
Tennessee will look to change their fortunes this week against the reeling Texans. The Titans 4-0 start looked fluky after beating the Broncos, Jaguars, and Vikings to start the season. However, after an impressive showing against the previously undefeated Bills, the Titans have vaulted themselves back into the national limelight.
Depending on how you look at it, each of the four Titans victories have come in different ways for better or for worse. Tennessee struggled to score touchdowns, and points after four misses from Gostkowski, in the season opener but relied heavily on its defense to get stop after stop against a young Broncos team. In week 2, the Titans got off to a strong offensive start yet struggled to slow down Gardner Minshew until a timely turnover and stop in the final two drives of the game.
Against the Vikings, the Titans defense looked horrible, giving up a record 175 yards to a rookie wideout and a 181 yards to running back Dalvin Cook, yet, somehow pulled out a victory with some late-game heroics. On Tuesday, the Titans flipped the switch with some dominant defense, forcing Josh Allen into two turnovers and stopped the Bills dynamic offense from scoring.
Tennessee’s ability to adapt to game situations and rally in tough situations has been a key characteristic since head coach Mike Vrabel took over the team. For a fan base that saw collapses of all sorts, the Vrabel-led Titans have flipped the switch, winning close and clutch games.
Behind Ryan Tannehill, the Titans are 13-4 in the last 17 starts. Tannehill has been clutch under pressure and been able to find many targets in tight windows. He should find more open windows against a leaky Texans defense that has allowed an average of 28 points a game.
After a second offseason of questionable moves, the Texans finally cut ties with head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien. The Texans traded away the best receiver in the AFC South in DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson and some picks just because there were slight disagreements. While Hopkins is putting up career numbers again in Arizona, Johnson has struggled to improve the Texans offense.
Deshaun Watson signed a massive contract this offseason but has been disappointing thus far in the season. He has thrown nine touchdowns and five picks and a middling 66.9% completion percentage with the 22nd ranked total offense so far in the league.
Tennessee can easily win this if they can do two things. First, they must stop the Texans pass rush. Spearheaded by J.J. Watt, the Texans strength on defense still lies on their front line. Watt has historically demolished the Titans. If the Titans can slow down the Texans pass rush, it’ll allow them to sustain drives and get the play-action going.
Second, Tennessee must stop the Texans big plays. In last year’s matchup, the Titans got cooked by big plays to DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Without Hopkins, the Titans must take away Fuller and his speed. If the Titans can force the Texans into short drives and three-and-outs, then the Titans can hold the ball and take the ball out of Deshaun’s hands.
This is a sneaky must-win for Tennessee to maintain the lead in the AFC South and keep a leg in the conference crown. With the new playoff changes, seven teams will be eligible for the playoffs, however, only the top team in the conference will get a bye week. After the Texans game, the Titans will face the Steelers in what will be another huge game for the AFC pecking order.