After nine years of waiting, the Tennessee Titans have reached the postseason. Now, what can they do to assure that their playoff stay lasts a little longer than one wild-card game? Playing the Kansas City Chiefs in noisy Arrowhead Stadium won’t be an easy task, but the Titans have had some good luck there, including winning four of their last five in KC, including Ryan Succop’s game-winning 53-yard field goal last year as time expired on a day with single-digit temperatures.
So, let’s look at what the Titans have to do to overcome being an eight-point underdog to prevail against the Chiefs.
1. Weather the initial frenzy. Having not been to the playoffs in nearly a decade, it’s normal that the Titans don’t have a lot of players on their roster with previous postseason experience. About a third of the roster has been in the playoffs before, but that leaves two-thirds with no knowledge of what the second season is like. The game moves a little faster initially and the atmosphere will be a little more electric, but the sooner the Titans realize it’s just a football game, the better off they should be.
2. Contain the Chiefs’ big three. Kansas City has some talented playmakers in speedy receiver Tyreek Hill and running back Kareem Hunt, not to mention Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce. All three of those present big challenges for the Titans defense, which has to find a way to contain them and not give up big plays by letting a missed tackle or a bad angle turn a short gain into a big one. Matchup-wise, can the Titans contain all three. A good guess would say that the front seven will have to slow down Hunt, while some combination of Kevin Byard and Jayon Brown could watch Kelce. As for Hill, the Titans have Adoree’ Jackson if they want to match up on him, but might also want to wrap a safety over the top as well just to be safe.
3. Hope Derrick Henry runs “angry.” Henry, by his own admission was “soft” in his first chance at being a feature back last Sunday vs. the Jaguars, gaining just 51 yards on 28 attempts. The Titans would like nothing better than for Henry to deliver on his promise of running harder and gaining the tough yards to move the chains on Sunday. One of the best ways for the Titans to stay in this game is for their inconsistent running game to show up in a big way against the Chiefs.
4. Take the chains off Marcus Mariota. Mariota put scrambling and running back into his game last week, going 10 times for 60 yards. The Titans need Mariota to make plays with his feet as well as his arm. When he feels good enough to move around in the pocket and on designed runs, Mariota tends to do better throwing the ball as well. The Titans need their QB to shake off a rough year and right himself in the playoffs, much like a guy who hit .220 in regular season becomes a tough out in the postseason.
5. Win the turnover battle. The Titans would do well to get a big play from their defense and/or special teams on Saturday to give them some life and maybe make a short field for their struggling offense. An interception or fumble recovery, or even a big return on special teams could be quite a boost for the underdog Titans.