Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will be the backdrop for a matchup between a pair of NFL teams looking to get back to .500 when the Tennessee Titans take on the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The Titans embarrassed the Browns in Week 1, 43-13, but have followed that up with two uninspiring efforts vs AFC South foes. Meanwhile, the Falcons also are staring at a 1-2 mark, with their lone victory coming two weeks ago at home over the Eagles.
This game will feature a high-powered offense on its own turf against a stingy defense, with the end goal being evening up the record a quarter of the way through the regular season.
Tennessee at Atlanta
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 29 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Atlanta -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Titans' offensive line needs to get on track
Tennessee's offensive line has been a disaster thus far. Jacksonville was able to harass Marcus Mariota on "Thursday Night Football" last week to the tune of nine sacks. It was a minor miracle that Mariota didn't turn the ball over once while dealing with the most pressure he's faced in his career. How this mash unit performs against the Falcons' front four will be of the utmost importance. Atlanta enters this game with five sacks but did a good job of getting after Carson Wentz two weeks ago at home.
The Titans must be able to establish Derrick Henry and give Mariota time to throw when he drops back. Mariota must scan the field and find the open target quickly, and then make an accurate throw. It's been a perfect storm of negatives for this offense in the early going. Mariota is taking a ton of abuse. He is not seeing open guys fast enough, and at times he is sailing his intended targets. On the flip side, he has yet to throw an interception and has a passer rating of 99.3. Improvement is needed in all aspects on offense but Tennessee could get a huge boost of confidence if the Titans can find a way to go 2-2 without suspended Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan.
2. Titans D will try to clip Falcons' wings
Atlanta has a dearth of talent at the skill positions. Wide receivers Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu, along with running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper will present a challenge to Tennessee's defense. How defensive coordinator Dean Pees goes about scheming against these weapons will be fascinating to watch. In theory, when in man-to-man, it would make sense to have Malcolm Butler on Sanu, Logan Ryan on Jones and Adoree' Jackson on Ridley. But that's easier said than done and you still have to account for Hooper in the middle of the field and Freeman on handoffs and coming out of the backfield as a receiver. Expect a mix of man and zone to hopefully keep Matt Ryan guessing and a lot of zone blitzes. The Titans will need to generate a pass rush with four guys to avoid being exposed for big plays down the field.
3. Success in the red zone
This is the thing I'm focusing on. Can the Titans turn Ryan over inside the red zone? Which team will settle for field goals and which will finish off drives by punching it in the end zone? Tennessee is the more physical team. I would expect the Titans to try and pound away on an undersized, speedier Falcons defense. But the Falcons have weapons galore and always play better at home.
The Titans seem to play their best when they are the underdog. Well, that's the case again this week, as Vegas has made Atlanta a 4-point favorite. Both teams are incredibly difficult to predict and both should enter this week with a sense of desperation. But I'm going with the home team, with the better quarterback and the more proven playmakers. This game will be decided by a field goal, but the Falcons send the Titans to a 1-3 start in 2019.
Prediction: Falcons 26, Titans 23
— 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.