NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
What happens on Sunday at Nissan Stadium won't necessarily determine where the Titans – and quarterback Ryan Tannehill – go from here. (On the schedule, they're going to Philadelphia next, btw). But we all know what happened the last time the Bengals visited town, in the playoffs last January. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions in that contest, and the loss was so crushing Tannehill revealed he saw a therapist to get over the pain. Earlier this week, Tannehill said the events of last year will have no bearing on what might happen on Sunday. But there's no denying the fact there's a lot of intrigue (from the team's fan base at the least) surrounding how Tannehill will perform in this one. A big positive heading into the game: Tannehill is coming off his best game of the season – a 333-yard, two touchdown performance against the Packers.
Yes, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow also remembers what happened the last time he visited Nissan Stadium – he was sacked nine times, which tied for the most ever in a playoff game. The Titans will look to get after him again, although they'll have to do it without defensive lineman Denico Autry. The good news is it looks like outside linebacker Bud Dupree will be back. The Titans, who lead the NFL with 143 QB pressures in 2022, can't afford to let Burrow sit in the pocket and get comfortable. The Bengals are 6-0 when Burrow has had a 100-plus passer rating in 2022, and they're averaging 31.4 points per game since Week 6, when they've scored 30-plus points in four of their 5 games over that time period. The Titans have been good on defense during that same stretch, allowing just 13.4 points per game since Week 6, which is the fewest in the NFL. Something that's a bit concerning: According to Next Gen Stats, Burrow has a 109.5 passer rating under pressure in 2022 (2nd highest among qualifying passers behind SF's Jimmy Garoppolo at 116.7).
Titans running back Derrick Henry made his return against the Bengals back in January, and he was held to just 62 yards on 20 carries. But this is a new year, and Henry has been a consistent force all season. Henry leads the NFL in carries (230), rushing yards (1,010) and scrimmage yards (1,209) in 2022, and his 10 rushing TDs rank 3rd in the NFL. Henry's 17-game pace: 391 carries, 1,717 rushing yards, 2,055 scrimmage yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. Henry has a chance to join Hall of Famers Jim Brown (4) and Steve Van Buren (3) as the only players in NFL history to win 3-plus career rushing triple crowns. The Titans, of course, are just aiming to get Henry going against a Bengals defense that's ranked 17th vs the run, allowing 117.1 yards per game. Henry has made up 38.8 percent of Tennessee's offense in 2022, and the Titans will look to ride him once again to take pressure off the passing game, and potentially open up things for the rest of the offense, including rookie receiver Treylon Burks, who is coming off his best game as a pro.
Things have been interesting for the Titans on special teams of late, at least at kicker, and it looks like that will continue on Sunday. Kicker Randy Bullock didn't kick vs the Packers because of the right calf injury he suffered in pregame vs the Broncos, and he's been ruled OUT for Sunday's game. On Saturday, the Titans added kicker Caleb Shudak to the team's 53-man roster after designating him to return to practice from PUP earlier in the week. Shudak kicked all week in practices, and after joining the team as an undrafted free agent from Iowa earlier in the offseason, he'll make his NFL debut. The Titans haven't had any drama at punter, where Ryan Stonehouse has consistently hit bombs. C.J. Board has been solid returning punts of late, and the team has been pleased with Hassan Haskins returning kicks.
This is where many games are won – and lost. And on Sunday, two of the NFL's best in the red zone will square off. The Bengals and the Titans are the top two red zone offenses in the NFL. The Bengals are 75% in red zone TD percentage, which ranks first, while the Titans are 74.1 % in red zone TD percentage, which ranks second. Flipping it, the Bengals are 15th in the NFL in opponents' red zone TD percentage (54.8), while the Titans rank 10th with a 53.6 opponents' red zone percentage. The Titans defense needs to rise up and get stops here against a Bengals team that's been more explosive of late.
Importance of Week 12
The Titans are slight underdogs at home against the Bengals. By now, you know I love to roll out the playoff percentages with a win, or loss, so I'm continuing that here. A win on Sunday would improve Tennessee's record to 8-3, and since 1990, teams with an 8-3 mark after 11 games have made the playoffs 91.9% of the time, they've won their division 64.6% of the time, and they've won the Super Bowl 3.0% of the time. Meanwhile, teams that have started 7-4 have made the playoffs just 71.4% of the time, they've won their division just 33.3% of the time, and they've won the Super Bowl 5.4% of the time. (Yes, the Super Bowl odds being higher here is odd). The Titans, of course, are just worried about finding a way to win on Sunday.