NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
The Titans didn't waste a lot of time getting started last Sunday in Jacksonville. On just their third offensive play, the Titans scored a touchdown on a flea-flicker, and while there was some early frustration mixed in, they took control of the game in the first half. Against the Lions, the Titans need to follow a similar script. The Titans have outscored opponents 79-61 in the first quarter of games this season, and they've had a number of games where they jumped out to nice leads. But they've also stumbled out of the gate on occasion, like that disastrous start the last time at Nissan Stadium against the Browns. Against a 5-8 Detroit team that's actually outscoring opponents in the first quarter (82-75) themselves, the Titans need to set a tone early.
Titans running back Derrick Henry leads the NFL in rushing, and he's impacting games like a snowplow on the streets in Buffalo in the winter. Henry has a whopping 1,532 yards and 14 touchdowns through 13 games, which is an average of 118 yards per contest. If he stays at his current pace, he'll finish with 1,886 yards on the year. A lot of fans, of course, are talking 2K, and that's a conversation Henry wants no part of right now. What's important this week is the now, and for the Titans to get Henry going against a Lions defense that's ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (132.8). With a rushing touchdown on Sunday, Henry can become the fourth player in league history with at least 1,500 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in consecutive seasons, joining Shaun Alexander (2004-05), Terrell Davis (1997-98) and Larry Johnson (2005-06).
The Titans have scored at least 30 points while posting at least 420 offensive yards four weeks in a row, which is a franchise record. The streak also marks just the 13th occasion in NFL history in which a team has recorded 30 points and 420 yards for four consecutive contests. So, can the Titans keep the streak going against the Lions, and what would it mean if they get to five straight games with 30 points and 420 yards of offense? Well, a streak of five such games has happened only four other times in NFL history. The Arizona Cardinals accomplished the feat earlier this season (Oct. 11 to Nov. 15), becoming the first club to do so since the 1999 St. Louis Rams. The only other teams on the list are the 1953 Philadelphia Eagles and the 1968 Oakland Raiders.
The Titans are focused on winning against the Lions on Sunday, while staying in the lead in the race for the AFC South. If the Titans win out, they'll win the division for the first time since 2008, no questions asked. But the Titans also have a chance to clinch a playoff spot this weekend, so other developments will be worth watching as well. The two most clear-cut scenarios at this point: 1. Titans beat the Lions, and the Ravens lose to the Jaguars; 2. Titans beat the Lions, the Dolphins lose to the Patriots, and the Browns win or tie against Giants. There's another scenario that includes a Tennessee win and a Dolphins loss with a strength of victory tiebreaker possibly mixed it. But one thing that's included in all three is what the Titans need to focus on the most: Tennessee winning.
Lions starting quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered a rib injury last week that has him questionable for Sunday's game against the Titans, so back-up Chase Daniel has been preparing to play against the Titans. No matter who lines up behind center on Sunday, the Titans need to be prepared to rise up on defense. The Lions have a pair of talented backs in Adrian Peterson and D'Andre Swift, as well as a big tight end in T.J. Hockenson and receivers Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola. As an offense, the Lions are averaging 351.5 yards per game, so they present more of a challenge than the Jaguars offense from a week ago. The Titans need to find a way to pressure the quarterback, while stopping the run and playing solid in the secondary.
If you've ever been to a Titans game at Nissan Stadium, you've heard Mike "Duke" Donegan's voice. Donegan is the team's public address announcer, and he's worked every game since the team moved into the downtown stadium in 1999. Duke has had a lot of fun over the years, especially on "thiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrd doooooooowwwn." "And any time I get to introduce players, that is exciting to me," Donegan said this week. "Bruce Matthews was always "Bruuuuuuce" and of course Michael "Roooooos" and "Dreeeeeew" Bennett. How you say the name is always fun." Well, Sunday will be Donegan's final regular season home game. Before the game, he'll be honored as the Honorary 12th Titan. He'll soak it all in, and fans should, too – he's made games even more fun over the years.