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Front Page - Friday, September 24, 2021

Tennessee Titans: Titans can’t slip Sunday vs. Colts with control of AFC South at stake

Derrick Henry posted 182 yards and three touchdowns at Seattle Sunday after just 58 yards and no touchdowns in the opener against Arizona. He leads the NFL in rushing with 120 yards per game. - Photo by Ben VanHouten | AP

Two weeks in, the Tennessee Titans’ best friend thus far this season might be the fact that they play in the AFC South.

Yes, the Titans were able to score a big overtime gut check win Sunday in Seattle, redeeming themselves for a Week One embarrassment at home to Arizona.

But with the Indianapolis Colts coming to town at 0-2 and possibly without starting quarterback Carson Wentz – he’s dealing with an ankle injury – the opportunity is there for Tennessee to firmly establish itself as kingpins of the AFC South.

The Colts are expected to be the only other contender in the division, but like the Titans, they have flaws, and Tennessee has to be able to take advantage of that early in the season to build and stack on a division lead.

Houston is 1-1 and tied for the AFC South lead, but the Texans are clearly in rebuild mode with their only win coming against Jacksonville, which looks to be a three-win team and headed for another top-five draft pick.

The Titans’ schedule does them very few favors, however, especially during a middle stretch starting Oct. 18 with a Monday night home game against the Buffalo Bills. The Kansas City Chiefs then visit, followed by a rematch with the Colts in Indianapolis. They then play at the Los Angeles Rams and host the New Orleans Saints, both tough NFC contenders.

We should know just how serious a contender the Titans are after that five-game stretch.

But first things first, defending their division title from a year ago is paramount for the Titans. Quite simply, Mike Vrabel and his team cannot afford to give a struggling Colts team that has lost to the Seahawks and Rams at home any sign of life.

To do otherwise would be to open the door for Indy to not only remain in contention but take the upper hand in the division race by virtue of a head-to-head win.

Conversely, if the Titans can simply take care of the task in front of them and not lay another egg at home, they can firmly establish control inside the division.

That starts with the formula that was prevalent in the second half and overtime in Seattle. The offense still runs right through Derrick Henry, but there were enough encouraging things to see from Julio Jones in the passing game to know that this Titans offense can have the needed balance to keep defenses honest as they game plan to stop Henry.

Defensively, things are still in flux for the Titans. They surrendered two more big-play touchdowns Sunday in Seattle, but they did have a formidable pass rush, something that was AWOL last year. Though the rush hasn’t been consistent, it has been timely and has produced five sacks in the first two weeks.

That’s a big improvement for a team that slogged through last season with only 19 total sacks.

The bottom line is that this Titans team appears very much a work in progress, especially on defense. But even while trying to improve over the course of the year, the Titans still have an opportunity to establish themselves in the division if they can take care of business on Sundays.