NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest:
Will Levis and Malik Willis
Ryan Tannehill has been ruled out for Sunday's game because of the ankle injury he suffered on London. Enter Will Levis, and Malik Willis. Titans Coach Mike Vrabel hasn't revealed the plan with his two young quarterbacks, only saying both will play. It will be the NFL debut for Levis, selected by the team with the 33rd pick of the 2023 NFL Draft. Willis, meanwhile, has played in the past, and produced mixed results. Both quarterbacks got plenty of work in practices this week. So, how will they perform against the Falcons? It's the biggest question mark heading into Sunday.
Help the QB
The Titans are going to need to help their young quarterbacks, from running backs Derrick Henry and Tyjae Spears to the offensive line to the tight ends and receivers. On the o-line, Nicholas Petit-Frere will start at left tackle for the first time this season. The return of receiver Treylon Burks figures to help the offense. Burks has missed the past three games because of his knee injury, after playing in the first three. Receiver Chris Moore is also expected back after clearing concussion protocol at the end of the week. DeAndre Hopkins leads the Titans with 47 targets, 27 receptions and 376 yards this season, but he doesn't have a touchdown so far. Hopkins has 21 more targets than the next-closest player (Chig Okonkwo, 26).
Life Without K.B.
Since 2016, a Titans defense has never taken the field without safety Kevin Byard being a part of it. Byard's string of 120 consecutive games was a sign of his commitment, and durability. Things will look different on Sunday, after Byard was traded to the Eagles earlier in the week. Elijah Molden is expected to work alongside Amani Hooker at safety, but the team also added safeties Terrell Edmunds (part of the Byard trade) and K'Von Wallace (claimed off waivers from the Cardinals) this week. Even with Byard in the mix, the Titans haven't been great in pass defense this season, allowing 237 passing yards per game (22nd in the NFL). With starter Roger McCreary ruled out with a hamstring injury, rookie Eric Garror is a candidate to work in the nickel.
Oilers/Titans Alumni Weekend
The action will be on the field, of course. But it's a special weekend at Nissan Stadium as over 170 former players and coaches are scheduled to take part in Oilers/Titans Reunion Weekend. Former Oilers quarterback Warren Moon and former Titans punter Brett Kern are scheduled to serve as the Honorary 12th Titans for Sunday's game. Former Oilers returner Billy "White Shoes" Johnson will be the Legend of the Game. The Titans will wear their Oilers throwback uniforms on a day that will also serve as the culmination for the Alumni Weekend.
Former Titans Return With Falcons
This will be a homecoming of sorts for a number of Atlanta Falcons as well. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith coached with the Titans for more than a decade, ending as offensive coordinator. His staff (LBs coach Frank Bush, Assistant Head Coach Jerry Gray, secondary coach Steve Jackson, defensive assistant Matt Pees, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone) and roster (OLB Bud Dupree, TE Jonnu Smith, TE MyCole Pruitt, QB Logan Woodside, DL Eli Ankou) are loaded with former Titans, and that carries over into the front office (Senior Personnel Executive Ruston Webster, senior assistant Steve Hoffman) as well.
Importance on Week 8
The Titans are underdogs for the sixth time in seven games this season, as the Falcons are favored by 2.5 points in Sunday's game. The Titans have lost two straight games, and they're in desperate need of a win. Since 1990, teams that started a season 3-4 have made the playoffs 18.7% of the time, won the division 8.7% of the time and won the Super Bowl 0.5% of the time. The percentages for teams that started 2-5 is pretty bleak: 6.1%, 3.1% and 0.0%. One reason to be optimistic: The Titans are 5-0 following a bye under Mike Vrabel.