Titans limp into New Orleans to challenge surging Saints
As dreadfully as this season has started for Tennessee, there is a glimmer of hope. Tennessee is only 2.5 games behind the leader of the AFC South, clearly the weakest division in the NFL. If the Titans still harbor any delusions of reaching the playoffs by winning the division, this game is vital.
The Saints have emerged from the trash heap after losing the first three games of 2015. New Orleans has won its last three contests. Although this is not a conference game, the Saints need to win in order to remain in serious contention for one of the NFC wild card berths.
Tennessee leads the all-time series 7-5-1. In New Orleans, the Titans hold a 5-2 advantage. Nine of the previous meetings occurred when the Tennessee Titans were known as the Houston Oilers.
Tennessee at New Orleans
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Saints -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Tennessee vs. New Orleans in offensive production
The Titans are averaging only 16.86 points per game. They have scored more than 14 points in a game only twice. When they have been held below their scoring average, they have lost all five games.
The Saints are averaging 25 points on offense in each game. When the offense scores less than 20, they have lost all four times. In those four games when Drew Brees and company put up at least 20, they won all four.
The Saints have given up an average of 29.25 points per game. The Titans have allowed opponents to score 22.71 points on average. Tennessee's defense and special teams must cooperate to hold the Saints below 20 to have a realistic chance of winning. The Saints' defense cannot repeat its generosity as seen in the games versus the Eagles and Giants. If so, they risk giving the Titans a chance to pull off the upset.
2. Protection of or pressure on Titans QB
The Titans' quarterbacks have been sacked four times per game on average. In losses by double digits, Tennessee allowed its quarterback to be sacked at least six times in each game. Those statistics do not bode well for the Titans, whether its starter Marcus Mariota or backup Zach Mettenberger out there.
The Saints have sacked opposing quarterbacks 3.75 times on average in their four victories. That pressure has helped New Orleans' struggling secondary. The Saints must put pressure on Mariota, who may not be as mobile after missing the past two games with a knee injury, or Mettenberger, who is a protoptypical pocket passer.
If Mariota returns, he will be making just his sixth career NFL start, will be doing so in a noted hostile environment, and coming back from injury. If Mariota shows rust or simply is ineffective, the Titans could turn back to Mettenberger, who has all of eight career starts under his belt and has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9) in his career. Advantage New Orleans?
3. Brees continues to spread around the passes
In the past two weeks, Brees has thrown to nine different teammates in each game. Seven Saints caught at least two passes against the Giants. Six hauled in two or more versus the Colts. No one received more than nine. Six players scored at least one touchdown in those games. That diversity of targets has contributed to the turnaround for the Saints. It must continue against the Titans.
The Saints are ascending, having won four of their last five games. The Titans are plummeting, having lost their last six contests. Those trends will continue on Sunday.
Prediction: Saints 41, Titans 16
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.