While the Tennessee Titans secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC, they are not seen by many as the best, or even second-best team in the conference. Despite the fact that they defeated both the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills in the regular season, those two teams made big-time statements in Super Wild Card Weekend — blowing out their first-round opponents. The Titans have a chance to make a statement of their own this weekend in the divisional round against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals have an offense that’s built to score, and when they’re clicking on all cylinders, they can beat any team in the NFL. Still, this Titans team is the No. 1 seed in the AFC for good reason, and they are healthier than they have been all season. Below, we will give three reasons why the Titans will end the Bengals hype this season, and advance to the AFC Championship game for the second time in three years.
1. The ‘Return of the King’
It’s going to be quite the scene when Derrick Henry is introduced as a starter on Saturday afternoon. There’s always the possibility he doesn’t look like himself coming off of surgery or that he splits time with D’Onta Foreman, but we have different standards for Henry compared to those we apply to other running backs. The Alabama product is simply built differently.
Tennessee went 6-2 with Henry on the field this season, and he finished ninth in rushing yards with 937, despite missing nine games. Henry became just the third player since the merger to lead the NFL in rushing yards per game in three straight seasons. He is the most effective weapon on offense for the Titans, and is capable of carrying a team to the win column. Back in 2019, Henry took Tennessee to the AFC Championship game by rushing for 182 yards against the New England Patriots in the wild-card round and 195 yards against the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round. Henry returning to the field coupled with the energy that brings to a team playing at home is a reason Tennessee will advance to the AFC Championship.
2. The Titans’ injury report
Not only is Henry returning for the Titans, but this is the healthiest this team has been all year. Only defensive tackle Teair Tart had an injury designation this week, as he’s questionable to play with an ankle injury. The Titans were more banged-up entering the season opener! A.J. Brown is going to play, Julio Jones is going to play, the defense is healthy. Everything is trending upwards for the Titans.
As for the Bengals’ injury report, it’s not as bad as it could have been. Defensive tackle Josh Tupou has a knee issue, but carries no injury designation into Saturday, and Trey Hendrickson was in concussion protocol, but will play. However, it’s going to be hard to make up for the loss of Larry Ogunjobi, who was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. He recorded seven sacks on the season and was tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 12. That’s a player you want holding down the A-gap when having to face Henry.
3. Titans defensive line
The Titans finished the regular season with the eighth-worst pass defense in the NFL. That’s something that could be exploited by Joe Burrow since he has weapons like Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to work off of. However, he’s going to need time to throw the ball, which he may not have.
The Titans were the only team in the NFL who had three players record eight or more sacks this season: Harold Landry, Denico Autry and Jeffery Simmons. Tennessee also has Bud Dupree chasing the passer as well. This Titans defensive line can completely dominate games. Just go back and watch the Los Angeles Rams film.
On “Monday Night Football” in Tennessee’s first game without Henry, the Titans rolled the Rams, 28-16. Simmons sacked Matthew Stafford a whopping three times, Autry had 1.5 sacks and Landry had half a sack. The pressure also had a hand in Stafford throwing two interceptions.
Burrow was the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL this season even with missing a game, and the Titans have already shown their defensive line can completely take over games. Throw in the fact that Henry is returning and adding that excitement factor, and I believe the Titans will win this game.