A Capsule Look at this Week's Colts Opponent, the Tennessee Titans
Synopsis: The Colts enter the regular-season finale having clinched everything they possibly can clinch. Their opponent in that game faces the same scenario.
Their opponent? One of their top AFC South rivals, the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans, a year after making the playoffs on the last weekend of the regular season, led the AFC South this season from start to finish, clinching their first division title since 2002 earlier this month. On Sunday, they secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 31-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will enter the playoffs seeded second.
The Colts, like the Titans, cannot move up or down in the AFC seedings, so Sunday's game at Lucas Oil Stadium will mean nothing to either team in terms of playoff implications.
While Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said the Colts will take a similar approach to that they have taken with their playoff seeding secure in past seasons – resting players who need rest and playing to win – Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher said Sunday he hadn't yet decided his approach.
"We are going to evaluate and look at it," Fisher said. "We are going to play a lot of people. Anybody that is capable of playing is going to play. I don't know how much, how long. So, we will decide during the week."
The Titans beat the Colts, 31-21, in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this season, part of a 10-0 start that helped them all-but secure the AFC South entering the second half of the season.
Tennessee, which has steadily improved this season, has won with a style similar to that it has used in past successful seasons – a run-oriented, efficient offense, and a physical defense that excels at creating turnovers.
The Titans have a plus-14 turnover margin, which is tied with Miami for the best in the NFL, and although they rank just 18th in the NFL offensively, running backs Chris Johnson and LenDale White have combined to rush for 24 touchdowns in 15 games.
Defensively, the Titans have one of the NFL's best, deepest lines, and despite the absence of 2008 Pro Bowl tackle Albert Haynesworth and 2007 Pro Bowl end Kyle Vanden Bosch, they harassed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times Sunday.
"We are a hard-working and hungry football team and it's playoff time," Titans wide receiver Justin Gage said. "We have to play our best football at this time of the year. I think we took a step toward that. We played Pittsburgh, which is one of the top teams in the NFL, and we got a victory."
2008 Record: 13-2, 1st in AFC South.
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher, 15th season as Titans and NFL Head Coach (127-101, 132-105 including playoffs).
Last game: Needing a victory to assure themselves home-field advantage for as long as they stay in the AFC playoffs, the Titans got it by doing what they did en route to the AFC South title. They won by being opunistic and forcing their opponent into mistakes. The Titans forced four Pittsburgh turnovers and committed none, with the Steelers' turnovers leading to 21 Tennessee points. Rookie Jason Jones, starting in place of injured Albert Haynesworth – a Pro Bowl defensive tackle – had 3.5 sacks and forced three fumbles.
2008 NFL Rankings: Offense – Overall, 18th (326.3 yards per game); Rushing, 6th (141.1 ypg); Passing, 24th (185.2 ypg); Defense – Overall, 5th (287.2 yards per game); Rushing, 4th (91.9 ypg); Passing, 8th (195.3 ypg).
2008 Leading Passer: Kerry Collins (241-413 completions, 2,677 yards, 58.4 pct., 12 TD, 7 INT, 80.3 rating).
2008 Leading Rusher(s): Chris Johnson (251 carries, 1,228 yards, 9 TD), LenDale White (193 carries, 748 yards, 15 TD).
2008 Leading Receiver(s): Bo Scaife (57 receptions, 554 yards, 2 TD), Chris Johnson (43 receptions, 260 yards, 1 TD), Brandon Jones (39 receptions, 436 yards, 1 TD), Justin Gage (34 receptions, 651 yards, 6 TD).
2008 Leading Sacker: Albert Haynesworth (8.5).
2008 Turnover Breakdown: Plus-14 (31 forced, 17 committed).
First-round draft choice: With the No. 24 overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Titans selected Chris Johnson, a running back from East Carolina.
Johnson, widely considered one of the fastest running backs in the draft, has emerged this season as a key to a two-back, run-oriented offense, four times rushing for more than 100 yards in 15 games this season. He has rushed for at least 60 yards in all but three games.
Through 15 games, he is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and he has three runs of 50 or more yards. He has fumbled just once this season.
Key free agents acquired: Dave Ball (New York Jets), DE; Chris Carr (Oakland), DB; Alge Crumpler (Atlanta), TE; Jevon Kearse (Philadelphia), DE; Justin McCareins (New York Jets), WR; Jake Scott (Indianapolis), G; Josh Stamer (Buffalo), LB.
Key free agents lost: Jacob Bell (St. Louis), G; Chris Brown (Houston), RB; Gilbert Gardner (Detroit), LB; Ben Hartsock (Atlanta), TE; Travis LaBoy (Arizona), DE; Antwan Odom (Cincinnati), DE; Randy Starks (Miami), DT; Ben Troupe (Tampa Bay), TE.
2008 Review: The Titans, one year after making the playoffs on the final week of the regular season, were the NFL's most-consistent, steady team in the early season and this past week, they clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Titans have allowed more than 17 points in just two games this season a 31-21 victory over the Colts and a 34-13 loss to the New York Jets.
In the regular-season opener, the Titans won a big, AFC South game at home against Jacksonville, taking sole possession of first place in the division, a lead they held all season. They then won their next three games – 24-7 over Cincinnati, 31-12 over Houston and 30-17 over Minnesota – by double digits before edging the Ravens, 13-10, in Baltimore.
They won their next five games – a streak that included a 31-21 victory over Indianapolis and an overtime victory over Green Bay – to improve to 10-0 and all-but clinch the AFC South title. They then lost two of their next four games – 34-13 at home to the New York Jets and 13-12 at Houston – before clinching home-field advantage with a 31-14 victory over Pittsburgh Sunday.
Last time in Playoffs: 2007.
Last time in Super Bowl: 1999.
Super Bowl Championships: None.
2008 Pro Bowl Selections: Chris Johnson, RB; Michael Roos, OT; Kevin Mawae, C; Albert Haynesworth, DT; Cortland Finnegan, CB; Chris Hope, S.
Quotable I: "I have been to the playoffs. I have been in situations where we have had home field advantage. There is a bunch of guys that have been through it. We will keep practicing hard. I think that's a big part of it. Coming out and working hard in everyday in practice. Knowing that we need to take care of the little things. At the end of the day, it gives us a chance.
--- Titans Quarterback Kerry Collins
Quotable II: "Coach Fisher talked to us (Saturday) night about momentum, coming out and establishing what we're going to be going into the playoffs. I don't know what they (the Colts) are going to do. Usually once they (the Colts) are in (the playoffs), they sit their players. We're not getting a real test. This (the Steelers game) was a real true test. It's definitely a momentum game and sets the tone for the playoffs in the AFC."
--- Titans Linebacker Keith Bulluck