Huge Game For Texans
The Texans have a chance to move into first place in the AFC South if they can win at Tennessee. The problem is that LP Field has been like quicksand for them.
The Texans are 2-7 in Nashville. Their last victory was in September of 2009 when they won 34-31. Their only other victory on the Titans' home field was in 2004. In other words, they've won one of their last six.
When they've played at Tennessee, the Texans have lost close games (13-10, 28-22), and they've lost blowouts (38-17, 31-12 and 31-17).
"This is one of those games that's big for both teams," offensive tackle Eric Winston said. "It's definitely one that you circle. Winning on the road is one of the best feelings in the world. Doing it in Tennessee would be tough (but) it would be that much sweeter to do it there."
In 2009, the Texans were 5-3 on the road. It was the best road record in team history and the only time they've compiled a winning record away from home. Since that 2009 season, they're 3-8 on the road, including 1-2 this season.
"We're not hiding any secrets," outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. "We need to win. They're half-a-game ahead of us, which makes it more important. It's a huge game. I think we all understand what's at stake."
If the Texans can beat the Titans, it'll give them an enormous advantage. They'll own the tiebreaker. The second game is on Jan. 1 at Reliant Stadium. Imagine the excitement if that last game was for the division title.
Colts Bringing Knives to a Gunfight
The New Orleans Saints offense was already tough enough with quarterback Drew Brees, running back Pierre Thomas, tight end Jimmy Graham and a slew of talented receivers, such as Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore and Robert Meachem.
But when the Saints added a pair of talented running backs to the mix -- free agent Darren Sproles and rookie draft pick Mark Ingram (who won the Heisman Trophy in 2009) -- in the offseason, one of the NFL's most prolific offenses became almost unstoppable.
That's the test that the Indianapolis Colts defense will face in a nationally-televised game Sunday night.
"They can outscore people, and that's the thing that they can do. They can generate points in a heartbeat, and they're never out of a game. They certainly can put points on the board in a hurry, so they do put some pressure on you in that regard," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said.
"But you have to be able to play your game, and you have to be able to play defense. That's extremely important. Offensively, you have to be able to control the clock as well."
The addition of Sproles certainly got the attention of the Indianapolis coaching staff. The diminutive running back (5-6, 190) has become a major thorn in the side of the Colts after several outstanding individual performances while he was playing in San Diego.
Outstanding as a receiver out of the backfield and as a situational runner, Sproles' ability to return punts and kickoffs certainly makes him a handful to try and defend.
"He's one of those guys that just has a rare ability that once he gets in space he's tough to handle. When you say contain, there are going to be certain parts of the game where he is going to get loose because they make certain he gets the ball in his hands," Caldwell maintains.
"Kickoff return, punt return, throw it to him and hand it to him. There are no limits to the way in which they get him the ball. Once he gets it in space, he's a handful. He's an explosive guy and you just have to be able to keep him within the confines of, maybe, a big play here or there. But if he can run wild, flip the field on you and score touchdowns, then it's going to be a long day."
Titans Eyes on the Schedule
--The old NFL adage of "one game at a time" certainly applies.
However, for the Titans, it is hard not to take notice of their schedule and how it breaks in the current stretch.
Beginning with Sunday's game against the Texans, which will be for the lead in the AFC South, the Titans are in a spot where they will be at home for three consecutive weeks, with two of those games being in the division and all three in the AFC.
Following the game with the Texans, the Titans host the Peyton Manning-less Colts, followed by the Bengals.
In other words, it's go time for the Titans if they want to establish themselves as the front-runner in the AFC South. Winning all three of the games -- or maybe even the right two of the three -- could help set Tennessee up to be in position to make a run at the playoffs in Mike Munchak's first season as head coach.
Of course, it is easy to say that. Getting it done is a completely different matter for a Titans team that has shown flashes solid play but also has had baffling performances in its losses -- giving Jacksonville its only win to date and being blasted just before the bye week, 38-17, by a beat-up Pittsburgh team.
"We know what's at stake with the division thing and this week and next week being two division games," Munchak said, "and it won't take much for us to understand the importance of these games and how important it is for us to play well and what we can accomplish if we do win these games."
The Titans moved back into sole possession of first place last week and didn't even play a snap, thanks to the Texans' loss to the Ravens on Sunday while Tennessee was idle.
The Titans are catching the Texans in much the same shape they caught the Steelers -- with injuries to key players. But the question is, can they take advantage as they could not do in Pittsburgh. Houston will be without linebacker Mario Williams and receiver Andre Johnson, two of their biggest stars, and quarterback Matt Schaub has been beat up with a number of nagging injuries, including shoulder and hip issues.
Because the schedule toughens dramatically in November and December, it is important for the Titans to put themselves in position to be in the driver's seat when they get to that point, rather than having to worry about chasing down a team in the division.
"Three home games -- if we could win these three, we'd be 6-2, and that looks a lot better than if we lose one or two of them," safety Michael Griffin said. "With that being said, it's pretty important. You don't want to be in that situation like we've been in the past where you're hoping other teams lose."
The Titans have to hope they don't have a repeat of what happened in 2010, when they collapsed after a 5-2 start. Tennessee lost eight of nine and finished the season 6-10, which led to almost a complete housecleaning after the season.
Players and coaches know, however, that any building toward a playoff run begins Sunday against the Texans, who now are the Titans' chief rival with Jacksonville and Indianapolis all but out of contention already 1-5 and 0-6, respectively.
"It's a huge stretch for us, and it starts with this week here," linebacker Will Witherspoon said. "We have to start with this game here. We didn't go into the bye week the way we wanted to, therefore we've got to come out and make sure we're on this roll."