The Tennessee Titans enter Week 8 at 3-4 following a tough 34-26 home loss to Indianapolis. It was the Titans’ 10th consecutive loss to their AFC South rivals and also snapped Tennessee’s first winning streak I tenth consecutive loss to the Colts and also snapped the Titans’ two-game winning streak, their first since 2013. Tennessee is now 0-2 in divisional play and just 1-3 at home this season. Mike Mularkey’s team will look to improve both of these marks Thursday night against Jacksonville. With Houston leading the AFC South with a modest 4-3 record, a win by the Titans would not only get them back to .500 on the season it also would place them right back in the thick of the division race.
Meanwhile the Jaguars (2-4) are currently alone in last place in the AFC South following a 33-16 loss to Oakland. Once again, head coach Gus Bradley finds himself firmly on the hot seat and must try and find a way to put together a complete effort on the road against Tennessee. Jacksonville has defeated its divisional counterpart in two of the last three meetings. However, the Jaguars are just 1-4 in their last five visits to Nashville. Again, with no team running away in the division, Jacksonville isn’t out of it yet, but neither the Jaguars, nor their head coach, can ill afford another loss.
Jacksonville at Tennessee
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 27 at 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: Tennessee -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Blake Bortles Find Success Against the Titans?
After posting big numbers in 2015, Bortles entered this season with high expectations. Unfortunately, he has not lived up to them to this point. Bortles currently ranks 27th among starting quarterbacks in passer rating. He is completing less than 60 percent of his passes, and has just as interceptions as touchdown passes (9 each). Poor mechanics and an inability to get on the same page with his star-studded receiving corps are largely to blame. His regression was glaring last week in a lackluster performance against a Raiders’ pass defense that has been the worst in the NFL this season.
The good news is that all may not be lost against a fairly mediocre Tennessee pass defense that currently ranks 18th in that category. Andrew Luck picked apart the Titans for 353 yards and three touchdowns last week. To make matters worse, Tennessee could be without as many as three starters in its secondary because of injuries.
Bortles will still have to contend with a pass rush that has already produced 20 sacks in seven games. He also will have to overcome his lack of a complementary run game. However, if Bortles can finally get it together, the opportunity for success should be on the table against a depleted Tennessee secondary.
2. DeMarco Murray vs. Jaguars’ Defense
Thanks to the resurgence of Murray, the Tennessee is third in the NFL in rushing offense at 143.4 yards per game. Following a disappointing season in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly, Murray seems to have found his mojo again with the Titans. Murray’s 633 rushing yards are third in the league and his seven total touchdowns (5 rushing, 2 receiving) put him in a tie for fourth.
Murray could be in for another big performance against the Jaguars on Thursday night. Jacksonville has been middle of the road against the run so far this season. The Jags are 15th in the league at 110 rushing yards per game allowed. They also have yielded at least one rushing touchdown in each of their six games this season. Additionally, Jacksonville will be without its top run defender in nose tackle Roy Miller, who was lost for the season due to an Achilles injury suffered in last week’s loss to the Raiders.
3. Can Marcus Mariota Have Success in the Air Against the Jaguars?
Mariota has shown flashes of greatness at times, but his consistency leaves plenty to be desired. Despite putting up fairly solid numbers against the Colts last week, Mariota was wildly inaccurate at times, which ultimately played a role in Tennessee losing the game. This week Mariota will be charged with trying to navigate his way around a solid Jacksonville pass defense, led by rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Ramsey’s impact has not really shown up on the stat sheet so far this season, but that is because quarterbacks have rarely thrown in his direction. Ramsey has been instrumental in limiting some of the NFL’s top wide receivers this season, including Amari Cooper, T.Y. Hilton and Steve Smith Sr. He also is a big reason why the Jaguars enter Week 8 sixth in the NFL against the pass.
Fortunately for the Titans, their top pass catcher is tight end Delanie Walker. It’s unlikely that you will see Ramsey matched up against Walker, which should leave Mariota ample opportunity to connect with his favorite target. Mariota might just be able to find success with his legs against this defense as well. He ran for a touchdown in each of the two games against Jacksonville last season, including a career-long 87-yarder.
Key offseason additions have boosted Jacksonville’s defense, particularly against the pass. However, an anemic offense and crucial mistakes continue to hamper the Jaguars’ chances to win games. The passing game has struggled mightily despite plenty of firepower. And the running game has been almost non-existent. Jacksonville is a miserable minus-7 in turnover margin, is the most penalized team in the league in terms of yardage, and has been the worst in the league when it comes to third down conversions (28 percent).
In spite of all the Jaguars’ deficiencies, they are playing a Tennessee team that is still far from great. The Titans also have a few issues of their own, consistency chief among them. That being said, they do possess something that their divisional foe does not, a potent running game. That should give Tennessee the edge to get a critical win at home to get back to .500 and back into the AFC South race.
Prediction: Titans 24, Jaguars 20
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.