NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans are near mirror images, physical teams that love to run the ball and play defense. Both won division titles last season only to start this season as losers.
Another common trait? Desperation.
The Dolphins (7-6) still can defend their AFC East title despite their 0-3 start, trailing New England by one game and tied with the New York Jets with three games remaining starting with Sunday's visit to Tennessee (6-7).
"If we don't win this, the playoff race is out of the question,'' Miami quarterback Chad Henne said. "We have to deal with this game before we get to any other. They're looking to go the playoffs also. It is going to be a tough game. We have to take it as it is. This is the most important game, and we cannot look past it because if we don't win this one, our chances are long gone.''
The Titans improbably remain viable after opening the season with six straight losses. They must win out and need plenty of losses by five teams ahead of them. The Dolphins are the only one of those teams they play down the stretch.
It's an elimination match, playoff preview or toughman contest. The Titans don't care about labels.
"You can call it what you want,'' Titans tight end Alge Crumpler said. "We're preparing to win the ballgame. It's important to us to win, especially to win at home. We definitely know the situation that we're in, and I'm pretty sure Miami knows the situation they're in. It'll be a physical ballgame. It'll be one of those smashmouth type of games I'm going to like to play in, and I'm looking forward to it.''
This game features two of the NFL's top three rushing offenses, thanks to Tennessee's Chris Johnson, who's trying to become only the sixth player in league history to run for 2,000 yards in a season, and Miami's Ricky Williams. Williams is 25 yards short of a league record for the longest span between 1,000-yard seasons.
Johnson is going for a ninth straight 100-yard rushing game, which would tie him for the third-longest such streak in NFL history with five others, including Walter Payton (1985) and LaDanian Tomlinson (2006).
Miami is allowing 106.1 yards per game. Johnson hasn't been held under that number since Oct. 11, when he had a season-low 34 yards rushing by Indianapolis. Miami coach Tony Sparano has an idea of how to defend the speedy back who already has a franchise record with 2,017 yards from scrimmage this season.
"Try to get 14 guys out there,'' Sparano said. "He's an outstanding player, he really is. This guy's doing something this year that only a few backs in the history of the game have done. So, he's a hard guy to defend. I think one of the things he likes to do is, this guy likes to circle the defense and get the ball on the perimeter. He's such a fast player.''
How fast? Well, Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder calls Johnson the best back in the league and thinks he might beat Usain Bolt in the 100. If Johnson breaks past Crowder, the linebacker's plan is to stop running and save his energy.
"Just stop running and wait for the next play. He has it. He has it. Whatever it is, he has it as a running back. He is amazing,'' Crowder said.
"Half the team has to overpursue, and half the team has to underpursue and hope he doesn't slip the middle. You see him hit the corner and the edge, if he gets to the edge - he kills angles.''
The Dolphins rank third in the NFL, averaging 150.1 yards rushing, right behind Tennessee. That's largely thanks to Williams, who has topped 100 yards in four of the past five games; starter Ronnie Brown has been out since mid-November with a right foot injury and is done for the year.
Miami held Maurice Jones-Drew to 59 yards on 18 carries in last week's 14-10 win at Jacksonville. The Titans got their own preview of Williams in their 47-7 rout of St. Louis as they held Steven Jackson to a season-low 39 yards. They want to follow the same game plan by stopping Williams first, forcing Henne to beat them.
"Obviously, if we don't get the run stopped and they're able to move the ball on the ground early, we're not going to have much success on defense,'' Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said.
Henne threw for a season-high 335 yards to beat New England on Dec. 6, and set a team-record with 17 straight completions against Jacksonville. But the second-year quarterback has eight interceptions this season against nine touchdown passes.
The biggest unknown for Tennessee is Vince Young's status because of a mildly strained right hamstring. But the quarterback, 6-1 since reclaiming his starting job, played some of last week's game with an achy right knee and wants to play. Johnson said Young told him he would play.
The stakes are high enough the coaches aren't trying to stoke up emotions.
"If we stress those type of things at this part of the week before kickoff, you paralyze your football team,'' Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "We're just going to go play hard and have fun.''
Sparano notes he controls only one thing, and that's this game.
"You can't look ahead, you can't look down the road, you can't look behind you, you can't do any of those things,'' Sparano said. "Right now, your sights are set on one thing, it's Tennessee.''
Crumpler may have spoken for players on both teams, though.
"I'd like to win this game and find out what happens after that,'' he said.