Titans, Jaguars collide on Thursday night in Nashville for a rematch between AFC South rivals
The Tennessee Titans (6-6) and Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) will meet for the second time this season to kick off Week 14 action in the NFL on Thursday night inside Nissan Stadium. The AFC South rivals last met in Jacksonville back in Week 3. That matchup proved to be a hard-fought defensive struggle that resulted in a 9-6 victory for Tennessee. It marked the third consecutive win in the rivalry for the Titans, who now lead the all-time series 28-20.
The Titans enter Week 14 with a shot of momentum after overcoming a 16-0 deficit with the help of some last-minute heroics from Marcus Mariota and the defense to secure a 26-22 win against the Jets on Sunday. The much-needed victory brought an end to a two-game losing skid, salvaging Tennessee’s dwindling playoff hopes in the process. The Titans currently reside among four AFC teams with a 6-6 record vying for the conference’s final wild-card spot, just one game behind the 7-5 Ravens. Tennessee now has an opportunity to improve its chances in the hotly-contested AFC playoff race with a clean sweep of Jacksonville on Thursday night.
Unfortunately, the 4-8 Jaguars’ chances of making it back to the postseason are slim to none at this point in the season. Nevertheless, Jacksonville continues to fight the good fight, and the Jaguars can now turn their attention to the rival Titans with a boost of confidence following Sunday’s upset of divisional foe Indianapolis. The 6-0 shutout victory over the surging Colts snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Jags. They will now make their way to Nashville in search of their first road victory since Week 1 and back-to-back wins for the first time since Week 2.
Jacksonville at Tennessee
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 6 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Titans -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Leonard Fournette return from suspension to spark the Jacksonville offense?
The deck was very much stacked against the Jacksonville offense heading into the Week 13 matchup against the Colts. The Jaguars fired offense coordinator Nathaniel Hackett only days prior, and newly appointed starting quarterback Cody Kessler would be taking snaps behind an offensive line down three starters. To make matters worse, Fournette was serving a one-game suspension for inciting a brawl against the Bills in Week 12. The result was a Jacksonville offense that couldn’t find the end zone even once in Sunday’s upset win. To be fair, it’s a small miracle that the Jaguars managed to move the football at all under the circumstances.
The good news is that Fournette will return on Thursday night to help bolster an otherwise anemic Jacksonville offense. Since returning from a hamstring injury in Week 10, Fournette has done most of the heavy lifting for the sputtering Jaguar offense with 358 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in three games. He will face a Tennessee run defense that has allowed 539 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns over its last three contests. On the surface that bodes well for Fournette. However, the Jacksonville passing game doesn’t present much of a threat with Kessler under center. And running room may be hard to come by behind a makeshift offensive line against a Titans defense that has the luxury of focusing almost all its attention on stopping the talented running back. Regardless, the Jacksonville offense stands a much better chance for success with Fournette back in the lineup.
2. A formidable Tennessee defense looks to stay on track at home
The Titans' defense had been among the most stifling units in the NFL before surrendering 38 points to the Colts in Week 11 and 34 points to the Texans in Week 12. Fortunately, the Titans were able to rebound nicely in Week 13, preventing the Jets from scoring a single touchdown on offense this past Sunday. It wasn’t quite a perfect performance against a somewhat weak Jets offense, but it was a big momentum shift for a Tennessee defense that seemed to be trending in the wrong direction. Look for the rejuvenated Titans defense to shine once again at home against a Jaguars offense that struggles mightily to put points on the scoreboard.
3. Can the Jacksonville defense return to elite form again on Thursday night?
Despite the Jaguars' 4-8 record and their recent seven-game losing streak, they have been able to put together solid efforts on defense most weeks. However, Sunday’s performance against a stout Indianapolis offense was on another level altogether and far more reminiscent of the elite defense that helped carry Jacksonville to the AFC Championship Game last season. The Jaguars held the Colts to a season-low 41 rushing yards and limited Andrew Luck to a paltry 4.8 yards per pass attempt. They also sacked the red-hot Colts’ quarterback three times and picked him off once en route to the shutout. The Jags will probably have trouble maintaining that level of dominance on the road this week, but a similar effort would certainly make life miserable for Marcus Mariota and a lackluster Tennessee offense on Thursday night.
When these teams met in Week 3, Leonard Fournette was on the sidelines nursing a hamstring injury and Marcus Mariota was dealing with an injury of his own that left him with little to no feeling in his throwing arm. Neither team scored a touchdown in a 9-6 defensive struggle as a result. And while you will probably see a little more offense on Thursday night with Fournette and Mariota both healthy this time around, points will once again be at a premium with defense still being the primary strength for both teams. That being said, there’s a reason why Tennessee is 4-1 inside Nissan Stadium this season. There’s also a reason why you need to go all the way back to Week 1 to find Jacksonville’s only road win of the season against a hapless Giants team.
Even with Fournette back on offense, Jacksonville is going to have a hard time putting points on the scoreboard against a Titans defense that always plays extremely well at home. Conversely, it will be a tall order for the Jacksonville defense to match last Sunday’s dominance on the road against a Tennessee team playing for playoff survival.
Prediction: Titans 20, Jaguars 16
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.