NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch in the contest…
Tannehill vs Former Team
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn't want to make a big deal out of it this week, but he'll face the team that drafted him – and traded him – on Sunday. But this is hardly a revenge game for Tannehill, who said himself he enjoyed his time in South Florida, where he still has a home. Tannehill's top priority on Sunday will be to beat the Dolphins because it would help the Titans clinch the AFC South. Miami's defense, with 45 sacks on the season, has made life tough for opposing quarterbacks. They rattled Ravens veteran QB Lamar Jackson earlier this season, and they made life miserable for Saints QB rookie Ian Book on Monday night, when they sacked him eight times. The Titans need to give Tannehill time to operate, and he needs to make good decisions and throws.
A.J. and Company
Titans receiver A.J. Brown put on a show against the 49ers, as he caught a career-high 11 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. He was a game-changer, and now the Titans would love to see him do it again. The Titans are once again short-handed at the receiver position. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was taken off the Reserve/COVID-19 on Friday, but Julio Jones remains on the list after going on it earlier in the week so he's not eligible to play. What that means is more Brown, and potentially more opportunities for Westbrook-Ikhine and Chester Rogers. Stay locked in on No.11 on Sunday – because when he's hot, he's sure fun to watch.
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been getting better each week – he has a 90-plus rating in five of his last six starts, and he leads the NFL with a 70.1 completion percentage. The Dolphins have done a pretty nice job protecting him, as he's been sacked just 15 times on the season. Tagovailoa, of course, is a pretty elusive guy who can create extra time for himself. The Titans have done a nice job this season putting pretty on opposing quarterbacks, and they'll need to harass the Dolphins QB on Sunday. While batting down passes has been difficult for opposing teams to do, the Titans would like to at least force him to get rid of the ball before he wants to, preferably while on the run.
Dolphins receiver Jaylen Waddle has turned into Miami's offense on a lot of Sundays. Waddle lines up all over the field for the Dolphins, and he's been making plays all over the field. Waddle has 96 catches for 941 yards and five touchdowns on the season, and he's coming off a 10-catch game against the Saints. Waddle has three 10-catch games this season, the second-most ever by a rookie. He has four straight games with at least eight catches and 65 receiving yards. Pretty impressive, huh? Needless to say, the Titans need to find a way to slow him down – or at least keep him from burning them with explosive plays.
By now, Titans fans are well aware of the team's up and down turnover story. In the team's three most recent losses, they turned the ball over 13 times with no takeways. In some of their recent wins, they had game-changing takeways that changed the game, most recently on Thursday night against the 49ers. The Dolphins have been creating a lot of turnovers during their seven-game winning streak, and they'd love to frustrate the Titans with takeways. The Titans, of course, will be looking to do the same. Miami has a minus-1 takeaway (23)/giveaway (24) number, while Tennessee's number is minus-5 (20/25). The team that fares well here figures to improve its chances of winning on Sunday.
The formula for the Titans to make the playoffs is simple: Win, and they're in. But there's more at stake on Sunday, as the Titans have a chance to clinch the AFC South, and possibly get into a position to reclaim the No.1 seed in the AFC South. Let's lay it out right here. The Titans can clinch the AFC South with a win over the Dolphins or a Colts loss to the Raiders. If both teams tie, the Titans would claim the division. The Titans can clinch a playoff berth with a win or tie, a Chargers loss (vs the Broncos) or tie + a Baltimore loss (vs the Rams) or tie OR; a Chargers loss or tie + a Patriots loss (vs the Jaguars) or tie OR; a Baltimore loss or tie + a Patriots loss or tie. A Tennessee win on Sunday paired with a Chiefs loss (to the Bengals) would not only clinch the AFC South, it would also move the Titans into the No.1 seed in the AFC with a week to go. Get your popcorn – and winter coats – ready. Oh year, I forgot to mention it's supposed to be windy and cold with a chance of snow on Sunday.