The Tennessee Titans' opponent this week is themselves.
Tennessee is reaping the so-called rewards of a postseason bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. But in recent years, that reward has been more curse than blessing, as only the 2003 New England Patriots have managed to win a Super Bowl from the No. 1 seed since 2000.
The Titans are doing their best to avoid becoming the latest casualty on that list, and part of the fine-tuning of their focus this week was to practice in full pads on Thursday.
It is all part of the challenge at hand to now allow themselves to become stale while waiting for an opponent in the divisional playoffs next week.
Safety Chris Hope, who was part of a championship in Pittsburgh, says realizing how the Titans worked to set themselves up for the shortest distance to the Super Bowl should help the team focus on finishing the task at hand.
"You've got to realize what you've got at stake. You've got guys that have played in the league 13 or 14 years and never had a legitimate chance at winning a championship," Hope said. "Any chance you get to make it to the playoffs and set yourself up with a bye week and home-field advantage, you've got to take advantage of it.
"It doesn't automatically make you a Super Bowl winner, but it's the best formula to win the Super Bowl. Those years start rolling up real fast, so you might not even make it that long in the league. So when you get a chance to compete, you take advantage of it."
Other teammates echoed that in the locker room and said last year's very brief taste of the postseason should serve as additional motivation not to let such an opportunity slip away so easily.
"By getting to that wild card game last year and just missing out the year before, guys have been here to see how hard it is to get there, and when you get there how quickly it can be over," linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "That's in the back of everybody's mind."
That's why the coaches are doing what they can to keep practices sharp this week and readying the Titans for what they will face.
Quarterback Kerry Collins said it is imperative that the veterans on the team assert themselves this week during preparation to assure the Titans will be crisp on Jan. 10.
"I think it gives you an opportunity to work on things that you want to work on going forward and getting better at the things we've been doing," Collins said. "The one time I had home-field advantage, we came out and played a very good football game. I think that's where the veteran leadership comes in and stresses the importance of what this week is about."
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