Titans-Colts could end up determining AFC South champ

Titans-Colts could end up determining AFC South champ

Familiarity will not be an issue for either opponent in this week’s Big Game, which pits the Titans against the Colts on Sunday.

The two AFC South rivals, tied atop the division with 7-3 records, played each other on Nov. 12 in Nashville, where the Colts won, 34-17.

That makes Sunday’s game in Indianapolis at least close to a must-win for the Titans if they have hopes of winning the division. Because a sweep of the season series by the Colts would give Indianapolis essentially a two-game lead on Tennessee with five remaining games.

The AFC playoff chase is a crowded one. The Titans and Colts are two of nine teams with at least six wins, and seven teams are either 6-4 or 7-3.

The Titans, who have lost three of their past four game after a 5-0 start, enter the game coming off a stout 30-24 overtime win in Baltimore. The Colts are coming off a stirring, 34-31 home win over the Packers and have won four of their past five games.

The Colts, averaging 27.6 points per game, are scoring nearly as much as the Titans (27.9 points per game).

“We have to try and get some more stops, limit long drives, get off the field,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said during the week. “[We have] to try to be able to run the ball, try and be able to establish the line of scrimmage, be better on special teams, play more complementary football, try and find ways to turn the football over, and make sure that we’re taking care of it.”

Derrick Henry
Derrick HenryGetty Images

Defensively, the Colts rank second in the league in total defense, yielding just 298.1 yards per game. The Titans are ranked 25th (388.9 yards allowed per game). The Colts are allowing just 20.8 points per game, fifth-best in the NFL, and the Titans are ranked 18th with 25.9 points allowed per game.

One of the keys to the Colts’ success has been their rookie kicker, Rodrigo Blankenship, who was signed as an undrafted free agent. He has made 23 of 26 field goal attempts, including the game-winner last week.

The Titans come into the game with some momentum, too, though, having rallied to erase an 11-point deficit in their win last week.

The engine that drives the Tennessee offense is running back Derrick Henry, who scored the game-winning touchdown on a 29-yard run in overtime — the cherry on top of a 133-yard rushing performance that put him back in the NFL rushing lead with 1,079 rushing yards.

Henry, too, became the first player in NFL history to rush for two OT touchdowns in a single season — the first coming Oct. 18 versus Houston.

“Derrick is extremely tough,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “He is a competitor. He runs hard. He takes a pounding each and every game and continues to keep fighting through it.”

Tannehill, too, continues to excel, completing 22 of 31 for 259 yards with touchdown passes to tight end Jonnu Smith and receiver A.J. Brown last week. The OT drive was Tannehill’s eighth game-winning drive since arriving at Tennessee in 2019, tying the Bills’ Josh Allen for the league lead in that span.

The Titans, who haven’t won a division title since 2008, have their best record through 10 games since they were 10-0 in ’08.

The Colts currently hold the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoff picture. But the Titans, with a win Sunday, can seize control of the tiebreaker with a 3-1 division record versus the Colts’ 1-2.

A loss to the Titans not only would drop the Colts to 7-4 overall but also would make them 3-4 in the AFC, which is a key wild-card tiebreaker. Buffalo (5-2), Cleveland (4-3), Las Vegas (4-3), Baltimore (4-4) and Miami (3-3) currently own that tiebreaker over the Colts.

Suffice it to say this is a massive swing game for both teams.