In the season finale, either the Indianapolis Colts or Tennessee Titans will inch their way to the AFC South title
Tennessee bounced back from a 21-10 deficient to pick up an 30-24 victory in overtime over the Baltimore Ravens. Meanwhile, Indianapolis’ defense held Green Bay’s offense to123 yards in the second half to help its offense rebound down after being down by 14. A Marquez Valdes-Scantling fumble set up a game-winning field goal for the 34-31 victory.
As both teams sit at 7-3, Sunday’s second showdown between the AFC South leaders becomes must-see television. If the season were to end today, that Thursday night victory for the Colts would give them the division and Tennessee the No. 5 seed.
Which prevails; the Titans offense or the Colts defense?
The Colts’ defense is one of the many surprises in 2020. They rank top five in near every statistical category and have thriving young stars like Darius Leonard, Bobby Okereke and undervalued rookie Julian Blackmon to build around.
More than anything, their run defense has immensely improved thanks to the addition of DeForest Bucker. They might however be suiting up without him after the team placed the defensive tackle on the COVID-19/reserve list on Wednesday.
With an average of 89.2 rushing yards allowed per outing, one running back has surpassed the triple-digit mark on the season against the front-seven. That was Henry, who finished with 103 on the night in the 34-17 loss at Nissan Stadium.
Henry has lived up to his massive extension this offseason in just 10 games. He currently leads the NFL in rushing yards (1,079), is second in average yards per game (107.9) and big runs (7) while yet to commit a turnover. Overall, the Titans are a top-five rushing team nearly single-handily on the legs of the former Heisman winner.
Matt Eberflus’ scheme has to quarantine Ryan Tannehill not for cushioning their stat line, but rather for protecting their offensive struggles. Philip Rivers has the best protection in his career behind the stout offensive line, yet still isn’t the driving force under center from two years ago.
Rivers’ deep-ball touch is all but finished. Twice on Sunday, he tried to go downfield for 30-plus yard gains and both were incomplete. He did though come up clutch against one of the league-worst red zone defense in Green Bay, connecting twice with his tight ends.
Indianapolis is built tough and should use that to their advantage on the ground. Jonathan Taylor woke up from his midseason slump and rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries while adding another 24 yards as a receiver. Nyheim Hines also has cemented his role as a gadget player and continues to be effective as a do-it-all option.
Tennessee also will be short-handed on defense. Jadeveon Clowney is now on the injured reserve and top cover corner Adoree Jackson still isn’t back. Pouring salt in the wound, Jayon Brown, the team’s leading-tackler will miss the remainder of the year with an elbow injury.
Looking ahead at both schedules, neither is a cakewalk to make the postseason with the Titans taking on a mixed bag Browns team and the Packers at Lambeau in December. Meanwhile, does anyone trust Rivers’ arm in the cold at Heinz Field against the league’s top defense?
Unlike Indianapolis, the Titans will need to be perfect, specifically on defense. Entering Sunday, Tennessee has allowed a league-worst 54.0 percent of conversions on third down. All Rivers has to do is set up a third and short and trust that the run game can do enough to gain a yard or two.
Much like chess, Indianapolis needs to play to its strategy to win. If they execute it properly, it’s checkmate for Tennessee in the division, and perhaps the entire playoff picture.