The AFC features some exciting teams at the top of the conference. Some top contenders include Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, as well as Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. Both teams feature high-powered offenses that can score a lot of points. However, the Tennessee Titans are the sleeper team in the conference that deserves the same respect as those two.
The Titans have won seven out of their last eight games after an 0-2 start to the season. They most recently shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Thursday Night which was just days after Green Bay’s 14-point comeback win a week ago against Dallas. After being the number one team in the AFC in 2021, Tennessee has quietly made their way back towards being the best in the AFC. How have they done it, and what could stop them?
Ground And Pound The Football
The biggest identity of the Tennessee Titans is their physical play at the line of scrimmage. This has allowed running back Derrick Henry to have yet another 1,000-yard season. Henry leads the league with 1,010 rushing yards; his ten touchdown runs are the second most in the NFL. Henry is the workhorse of this offense, with 230 rush attempts for an average of 4.3 yards per carry.
It is great to see Derrick Henry look like the previous version of himself. He had a quality season in 2021 but missed half the season due to an injury. While he might not match his 2,000-yard season in 2020, Henry is still the best running back in the NFL.
When the Titans need to pass the ball, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is doing ok. He has eight starts in 2022 and won six of them. Tannehill is completing 65% of his passes for about 210 yards per game. He has ten touchdown passes compared to four interceptions. Tannehill’s numbers are not spectacular, but he has been serviceable.
The Titans do not score many points, but they are efficient. Tennessee has scored a touchdown on 74% of red zone trips which is the best in football. This offensive efficiency ensures the team is scoring points when it matters.
A Stout Defense
The Titans are also physical on the defensive side of the ball. Tennessee has allowed opposing teams to rush for 822 yards through ten games which is the best in the AFC. This includes allowing two rushing touchdowns all season. In addition, opposing running backs are averaging just 3.9 yards per carry against the Titans, which is the third-best in the league.
The Titans have some playmakers on the defensive line and at the linebacking group. Linebacker David Long Jr. leads the team with 79 tackles. In addition, Tennessee has three players with more than five sacks this season; Denico Autry, Jeffery Simmons, and Rashad Weaver. The Titans’ secondary is the team’s weakness allowing the second most passing yards in the league, but their physical attacking at the line of scrimmage can overcome this.
Tennessee has the perfect coach in Mike Vrabel. He was a former linebacker and three-time Super Bowl champion. Vrabel brings a defensive mind and competitive attitude to the Titans. So it is no surprise he has a 47-27 head coaching record with playoff appearances in three out of his first four seasons. Vrabel is poised to lead the Titans again to the playoffs in 2022.
What Could Hold The Team Back?
The Tennessee Titans currently sit a 7-3, half a game out of first place in the AFC. Kansas City holds the number one spot and defeated the Titans in Week Nine, which could be the tiebreaker if both teams finish with the same record. The Titans also lost a head-to-head matchup against the Buffalo Bills in Week Two. While Tennessee is a better team now than earlier in the year, their losses against the top-tier teams could affect them in playoff seeding.
The upcoming schedule could potentially hold the Titans back. Tennessee has a mini-bye week with playing on Thursday Night Football, but they next host the 2021 AFC Champion, the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals found a formula to beat the Titans in the divisional round in last year’s postseason by limiting Derrick Henry and the running game. They also forced Ryan Tannehill to throw three interceptions, including one late in the game, which allowed them to defeat Tennessee 19-16. In 2022, the Bengals are 5-4 but are looking to get on a run in their postseason push.
After the Bengals game, the Titans travel to Philadelphia to take on the one-loss Eagles. Former Titan A.J. Brown will look to go off on his former team because they did not pay him. The Titans will also host the Dallas Cowboys at the end of December. Dallas has played well this year and will be a playoff contender. Tennessee does have two games against the Jaguars but playing against contending teams such as the Bengals, Eagles, Chargers, and Cowboys will be a huge test.
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is the final person holding the Titans back. He is 2-3 in postseason games and has lost three straight playoff matchups. In 2021, Tannehill had three interceptions against the Bengals. The year prior, he had just 165 passing yards and an interception in the loss against the Ravens. When opposing teams force Tannehill to pass the ball, he has yet to prove he could get it done in critical moments.
The Titans are a sleeper team in the AFC. They have overcome a slow start to the year and have been playing their best football of the year.
Tennessee had a chance against the Chiefs, the Bills have lost two straight, and the Dolphins have not won a playoff game since 2000. Do not be surprised if the Titans climb back up to the number-one seed in the AFC and make a deep playoff run.
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