The Tennessee Titans already are halfway to their win total from a year ago. The Kansas City Chiefs have doubled theirs.
It is not uncommon in the NFL for a team or teams to stage dramatic turnarounds rather than endure a long, slow climb out of mediocrity. In fact, each of the last 10 seasons at least one franchise won its division after having finished last in the previous season – and the Chiefs have done it twice.
A quarter of the way through this season, these are two of the leading contenders to make the big move. That makes Sunday’s game at LP Field (noon, CBS) so intriguing – not to mention surprisingly important.
Three reasons to believe the Titans will have success Sunday
• Running on: Opponents have averaged 5.4 yards per carry against the Chiefs. That’s the highest in the AFC. No team has shown it is more willing to run early and often in order to win than the Titans. Plus, Tennessee almost exclusively has faced 3-4 defenses this season, so it is accustomed to the manner in which Kansas City will attack.
• Make them earn it: The Titans are one of three teams that has not allowed a pass play of 40 yards or more. That suggests its defense has been sound in its positioning and – much more often than not – players have made tackles when needed. Kansas City averages a paltry 6.6 yards per attempt, which plays right into that strength of the defense.
• Great Nate: Nate Washington can become the first Titans wide receiver since Drew Bennett in 2004 with 100-plus receiving yards in three consecutive games. Bennett’s best game in his stretch (12 catches, 233 yards, three touchdowns) was against Kansas City, the last time the Chiefs were at LP Field. The most consistent aspect of Bennett’s streak was the Titans lost all three games. Currently, they have won the two in which Washington has hit the 100-yard mark.
Three reasons to believe the Titans will struggle Sunday
• Charles in charge: Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles leads the NFL in plays for first downs with 29 – 17 on runs and 12 on receptions. He is both the team’s leading rusher and leading receiver and – with four career plays of 80 yards or more – is a big-play threat comparable to Chris Johnson, which is not something the Titans often have to face.
• Backup plan: Kansas City is Exhibit A on the value of the starting quarterback. Alex Smith’s steady approach has been a major factor in that team’s turnaround. The Titans, however, turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick in place of the injured Jake Locker and that creates a lot of uncertainty about how the offense will operate.
• Ball security: No team has taken better care of the football than the Titans, but the Chiefs have been close. Even with three turnovers last week, Kansas City still is tied with Tennessee for the league lead in turnover ratio at plus-9. No team in the Super Bowl era ever has made it through the first five games without a giveaway. So it’s tough to imagine the Titans will do so – and one turnover could be the difference in this one.
The bottom line
There it little to distinguish between these teams except the impetus for their respective turnarounds. The Chiefs augmented what already was a talented roster (they had seven Pro Bowlers last season) with a new quarterback and head coach. The Titans, on the other hand, turned over more than one-third of their roster. A slight edge in trust and understanding among the players, therefore, goes to Kansas City.
However, a matchup of the league leaders in turnover margin – particularly one that comes with a 60 percent chance of a thunderstorm – is going to be decided by a turnover at just the right time. Wait for it. Watch for it.
- BRASWELL, ROBERT
- GARRETT, JOHNNY C EXECUTOR; GARRETT, JOHNNY C IV EXECUTOR; GARRETT, ANN BIGGER ESTATE; GARRETT, TIMOTHY M EXECUTOR
- GARRETT, TIMOTHY M EXECUTOR; GARRETT, ANN BIGGER ESTATE; GARRETT, JOHNNY C EXECUTOR; GARRETT, JOHNNY C IV EXECUTOR
- GARRETT, JOHNNY C IV EXECUTOR; GARRETT, JOHNNY C EXECUTOR; GARRETT, ANN BIGGER ESTATE; GARRETT, TIMOTHY M EXECUTOR