A pair of 2-4 underachieving teams square off Sunday afternoon hoping to stay alive in the AFC
The Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans both had aspirations of being AFC playoff-caliber teams in 2019. Through the first six weeks, both teams have failed to show that those aspirations are a reality, sitting at 2-4 entering Week 7.
The Chargers are coming off of a disappointing, if not discouraging, home loss to Pittsburgh, who started third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges. As bad as it's been for Los Angeles, the situation in Tennessee is arguably worse. The Titans are coming unglued at the seams, having cut their kicker two weeks ago and now benching franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill.
Sunday's game presents an opportunity for one of these teams to get back in the win column and give them a shot next week at reaching .500 as we approach the halfway point of the season.
Los Angeles at Tennessee
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 20 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Tennessee -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Tannehill time for the Titans
Former first-round pick and Miami Dolphin Ryan Tannehill will make his first start as a Titan on Sunday with Marcus Mariota going to the bench. Tannehill, who was traded to Tennessee in March as part of the Dolphins' youth movement, was brought in to be a significant upgrade over last year's backup, Blaine Gabbert. Now his moment has come while questions about Mariota's future with the team swirl.
Tannehill has always had more of a "let it rip" mentality (career 123:76 TD-to-INT ratio) than Mariota, and that will be needed this week. Tannehill will need to get the ball out fast, in part for self-preservation, and in part to let his playmakers do their thing. The playbook shouldn't vary too much due to Tannehill having a similar skill set to Mariota. That includes mobility, which could be very important considering...
2. Tennessee's terrible offensive line
The Titans' line has been a complete mess this season. They have yielded 29 sacks through six games, four more than any other team. Tennessee's struggles in pass protection have made mediocre to subpar pass rushes look like unstoppable forces. The Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos were both in the bottom third of the league entering the week they played the Titans in the sack department yet were able to feast on Mariota all afternoon, sacking him eight times combined. The Broncos also got to Tannehill four times after he replaced Mariota.
Left guard Rodger Saffold, who received a $44 million dollar contract this offseason in free agency after spending the first nine seasons of his career with the Rams, has been a total bust. Taylor Lewan missed the first four games because of a suspension but he's yet to look like a Pro Bowl left tackle in the two games he's played. How the offensive line fares in protecting Ryan Tannehill against Joey Bosa and the Chargers' other pass rushers will be crucial this Sunday.
3. Is this the game Melvin Gordon gets on track?
Gordon now has two games under his belt since returning from his holdout that started in training camp. He didn't get a carry two weeks ago against Denver and saw just eight last Sunday night against Pittsburgh, finishing with 18 rushing yards. Austin Ekeler more than held his own in Gordon's absence but the Chargers need to get Gordon going if they want to maximize this offense's potential.
Los Angeles also got a boost in the return of tight end Hunter Henry last week, as he went for eight catches, 100 yards, and two touchdowns in a losing effort. Between Gordon, Ekeler, Henry, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams, Philip Rivers doesn't lack for weapons. And if the Chargers are going to make any sort of playoff push, they will need to get the most out of everyone, starting with Gordon.
Tennessee's offensive line has been downright awful this year. And while Los Angeles is only 21st in sacks, I expect Joey Bosa and company to have the same success harassing Ryan Tannehill that the Bills and Broncos did against Marcus Mariota. Chargers fans don't provide much of a home-field advantage (as was evident last week vs. Pittsburgh), so I don't expect them to travel to Nashville. On the flip side, Titans fans are dejected right now so I would expect Nissan Stadium to be almost half empty. The Chargers have more playmakers on offense and the better quarterback. Los Angeles wins in a tight one that won't be pretty.
Prediction: Chargers 23, Titans 20
— Written by Nick Kayal, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as a college football and NFL writer. Nick is a Morning Show Host in Nashville on 102.5 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @NickKayal.