Six weeks ago, it seemed unthinkable that the Tennessee Titans could lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars, let alone finish behind them in the AFC South standings.
The latter actually could happen if the unthinkable occurs again when the Titans and Jaguars conclude their season series Sunday in Jacksonville (noon, CBS). With a victory, the Titans clinch second place for the second time in three years. With a defeat, they fall to third by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker with Jacksonville.
It’s not much, but it is scenarios such as this that add even a modicum of intrigue to late-season matchups between also-rans, which is exactly what this game is.
Three reasons to believe the Titans will succeed Sunday
• Even Steven: During the Titans era (1999-present), these teams have split the season series much more often than not. On those occasions when one team has won both games (Tennessee in 1999 2002, 2003 and 2008, Jacksonville in 2005) that team has made the playoffs. Neither of these teams is anything close to a playoff participant this season and – lest anyone forgot – Jacksonville won the first meeting, which means the Titans are due to take this one.
• Passing lane: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for a career-high 402 yards last Sunday and in his last six appearances (five starts) he has thrown 11 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. That includes two touchdowns and no interceptions in the last game against Jacksonville, which gave him seven touchdowns, one interception and a 110.2 passer rating in his last three games against the Jaguars.
• Man in the middle: Jurrell Casey leads all NFL defensive tackles with 10.5 sacks this season. He’s had multiple sacks four times, including twice in the last three weeks and has registered at least one in each of his last three games against the Jaguars, who rank 25th in the league in sacks allowed per pass play.
Three reasons to believe the Titans will struggle Sunday
• Running on: In the season’s first meeting, the Jaguars rushed for 54 yards, which was just 12 below their season average at that time. They come into this one have rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last four weeks, including a season-high 159 last Sunday against Buffalo. The Titans’ last five opponents have averaged 4.0 yards per carry or better and have scored a combined eight rushing touchdowns.
• On the mark: Quarterback Chad Henne has an 18-30 record as a starter in his six NFL seasons with Miami (four) and Jacksonville (two), including 5-7 against the AFC South. However, he has won three of his last four against the Titans and has completed better than 60 percent of his pass attempts each time. He didn’t have to do much to win the last one (14-23, 180 yards, two interceptions) but extended his streak nonetheless.
• A fond farewell: Center Brad Meester, Jacksonville’s all-time leader in seasons (14), games (207), starts (207) and consecutive starts (92) announced this week that he will retire at the end of the season. He’s the only player to have worked under all five coaches in franchise history and one of only five active NFL players to be with one team at least 14 seasons. This is the Jaguars’ final home game and, no doubt, they’d like to send him out a winner.
The bottom line
This is a game the Titans should win. Then again, they should have won the last time these teams played but did not. They should have beaten Indianapolis at least once and should have held on against Houston and Kansas City earlier in the year.
In short, Tennessee is a team that finds ways to lose much more often than it finds ways to win.
That being said, it is really hard to imagine any team can lose to Jacksonville twice in a season.
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