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Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans Prediction: AFC South Foes Meet in the Music City

Titans aim to end their two-game skid, put this week's turmoil past them, and pad their division lead even more with another home win over the Jags.

The Jacksonville Jaguars face the Tennessee Titans for the first of their two meetings this season on Sunday afternoon in Nashville.

Related: Expert Picks for Every Week 14 NFL Game

Both teams are reeling a bit after last week’s big road losses in which they combined to score just 24 total points. After getting throttled 40-10 by the Lions, Jacksonville (4-8) is three games behind the first-place Titans in the AFC South. The Jaguars still have a slight, albeit faint, glimmer of hope left when it comes to the playoffs, but that light would be all but extinguished with a loss on Sunday. Jacksonville has just one win against Tennessee in its last 10 matchups and has not won inside Nissan Stadium since 2013.

The Titans (7-5) are coming off arguably their worst loss of the season last week in Philadelphia – a loss that ultimately cost general manager Jon Robinson his job. Tennessee has lost two in a row and three of its last five games. The Titans have been feasting on bottom-dwellers, going 6-0 against teams with losing records. And despite their hefty division lead and winning record, Mike Vrabel's crew has proven to be paper tigers, positing a 1-5 mark against teams above .500, with that lone win coming against a Carson Wentz-led Commanders team in early October.

A win on Sunday keeps the Jaguars' distant playoff hopes alive, while a victory for the Titans would all but lock up another divisional title with only postseason home-field advantage left to play for in the remaining weeks.

Jacksonville (4-8) at Tennessee (7-5)

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Titans -4
Tickets: As low as $59 on*

Three Things to Watch

1. Don't blame the King
Derrick Henry hasn’t had anywhere to run for the last month. Last week against the Eagles, Henry had just 11 carries for 30 yards, which is a mere 2.7 yards per attempt. That’s the fourth straight game that he’s been kept under 3.2 yards a clip and the third game in that same span that he’s averaged less than three yards per carry. The bigger problem is just how much this Titans’ offense relies on Henry to carry the load. Simply put, Tennessee can only go as far as Henry is allowed to take this team because so much of the offense runs through him.

That unstable and untenable reliance has been magnified in recent weeks as Henry’s numbers tumble. One of the more troublesome stats is the number of first downs that Henry has been able to produce. In the last four games, Henry has picked up just six total rushing first downs, none of which came in the last two outings against Philly or Cincy, both losses.

The issues Henry is facing are a microcosm of the Titans’ offensive struggles as they rank 22nd in time of possession, 26th in third-down conversion rate (35.5 percent), and 26th in points per game (18.3) this season. If Henry isn’t moving the chains, the offense can’t stay on the field, and the offense can’t score points if they’re on the sideline – not that they score points when they’re on the field, either.

Of course, none of the Titans’ struggles are Henry’s fault. If anything, the Titans probably owe him an apology. As I mentioned in last week's preview, the Tennessee offensive line is the worst in the league at run blocking and Henry is facing more stacked boxes (eight or more defenders near the line of scrimmage) than any other running back in the league. But somehow, Henry is still third in the league in rushing yards with 1,078, 913 of which have come after first contact.

This week Henry faces a Jaguars defense that has allowed 137 yards rushing per game over the past six contests. The Jags are 12th in yards allowed (1,363), ninth in rushing first downs surrendered (90), and fifth in yards per carry allowed (4.1).

2. Trevor Lawrence rebound game?
One of the most vital aspects in the development of young quarterbacks is being able to find some sort of consistency. Sure, Lawrence has his moments of still looking like a rookie, but he’s done a much better job this season at stringing together positive plays, positive games, and not letting the hiccups become a habit.

Last week, Lawrence had a hiccup. Maybe even a throw-up. Either way, it wasn’t good. In the 30-point loss against Detroit, Lawrence completed just 54 percent of his attempts for 179 yards and a measly 5.7 yards per attempt. It was arguably the worst game of his sophomore season.

In the three previous games leading up to last week’s flop, Lawrence played wonderfully, completing 76 percent of his throws with six scores, no interceptions, and a sterling 116 passer rating. In fact, the numbers this season show Lawrence’s progression trending in the right direction. His completion rate (65 percent) is up six points over last season, he has cut his interception rate (1.3 percent) in half, his adjusted yards gained per attempt (7.0) is up 1.8 yards, and his passer rating (92.8) has jumped 21 points.

Lawrence could be due for a rebound performance against a Titans’ pass defense that’s been one of the worst in the NFL this season. Tennessee ranks 31st in total passing yards allowed (3,320), 29th in touchdowns (22), and is allowing a quarterback rating of 108.1.

3. Gut-check time in Tennessee
Despite leading the division by three games in Week 14, and winning the AFC South the two previous seasons, the Titans are at an inflection point. Head coach Mike Vrabel said as much earlier in the week after general manager Jon Robinson’s firing by owner Amy Adams Strunk.

It may seem odd for a first-place team to feel like they’re standing at such a consequential crossroads, but the Titans absolutely are. For starters, they are a flawed team. I’d argue fatally flawed. The totality of their offense revolves around one person (Henry) being able to put up monster numbers. They have no backup plan for when Plan A doesn’t work. They have no playmakers on the perimeter. Rookie wide receiver Treylon Burks has plenty of promise, but the first-round pick is likely to miss his fifth game of the season with a concussion and has dealt with other injuries. Ryan Tannehill is a fine quarterback, but he isn’t a guy whose arm is going to win you a big game. And as we’ve covered previously, this offensive line couldn’t stop a runny nose.

The defense is the Titans’ strength, but even that foundation is starting to show cracks. A unit that was built on pressuring the quarterback and forcing turnovers is struggling to do either. The front seven has graded out below average the last three weeks as the defense hasn't forced a single turnover during that span. In their five losses (against good teams, remember), the Titans have given up an average of 426 yards per game with only three forced turnovers. To make matters worse, the injuries are starting to pile up. Denico Autry has missed the last two games and didn’t practice this week, neither did fellow linebacker David Long Jr. (hamstring) or cornerbacks Kristian Fulton (groin) and Tre Avery (concussion) in an already thinned-out secondary.

So this weekend we get to check the mettle of this Titans team. On paper, they are the superior squad compared to Jacksonville. But how do they respond to the adversity of the week? Of the overtly flawed roster? The questionable game planning? The injuries? The eroding defense? Sunday afternoon is gut-check time in Tennessee.

Final Analysis

If there’s one thing we know about this Titans team, it’s that their toughness reflects that of their head coach, Vrabel. And it’s really, really hard to beat a tough team on their own home turf. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing game on Sunday afternoon, but I just don’t think the Jaguars have the horses.

Prediction: Titans 20, Jaguars 17

— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

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