The second game on the docket on Saturday night is one that features major playoff implications in the AFC South. At 8:15 PM ET, the (7-9) Tennessee Titans battle the (8-8) Jacksonville Jaguars on ESPN, and all either team needs is a win to clinch the division.
Tennessee has taken the division crown each of the past two seasons, and Derrick Henry returns after missing Week 17 with a hip injury. Complicating matters is the fact that the Titans won’t have their starting quarterback. Instead, the burden falls on Joshua Dobbs, who will be making his second career NFL start.
But Jacksonville, winners of four in a row, have been the much hotter squad and are looking to go from a worst-place finish last season to first in the AFC South. It would be a big leap for Doug Pederson’s team, giving the Jaguars their first division title since 2017.
Despite Vegas viewing Jacksonville as -6.5 point favorites, it’s a fascinating matchup that is sure to generate a lot of interest. Here are four bold predictions we could see playing out during the game on Saturday night.
Trevor Lawrence has first 400-yard passing game of NFL career
Playing in his second NFL season since being selected first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, Trevor Lawrence is starting to look more like the superstar we saw at Clemson, where he was a national champion. But we didn’t see much success from Lawrence or the Jaguars a season ago with Urban Meyer (2-11) at the helm, leading to a 3-14 finish.
That has changed drastically with the Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson taking over. Lawrence has improved his completion rate by nearly seven percentage points this season. At 59.6% last year, he had the third-worst rate in the NFL among starting quarterbacks. This year, at 66.5%, he ranks 13th.
Instead of leading the league in picks thrown (17) as he did as a rookie, Lawrence has doubled his passing touchdowns up to 24 while cutting his interceptions in half. In other words, Lawrence is starting to look like the future Pro Bowl QB he was drafted to be.
In Week 14, Lawrence set a new career-high with 368 passing yards, which came against the Titans. Our first bold prediction has Lawrence besting that mark, throwing for the first 400-yard passing day of his NFL career. The Titans have the NFL’s worst passing defense, allowing an average of 280 passing yards per game. Lawrence has this in the bag.
Travon Walker racks up career-high three sacks
While Lawrence is coming closer to reaching his potential, the other No. 1 overall pick on Jacksonville’s roster, rookie edge rusher Travon Walker, hasn’t taken off as the franchise has hoped.
After recording an interception and a sack in his NFL debut, Walker has just 2.5 QB takedowns since. He’s fallen completely out of the race to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, but not all hope is lost for this 22-year-old freakish athlete.
Pro Football Focus credited Walker with the best pass-rush grade of his young career in Week 14, against Tennessee at 91.6. It’s the only game this season where Walker had both a sack plus multiple hurries on the QB.
Looking to build on his previous effort, if Walker can tap into the same success he previously enjoyed against the Titans, why can’t he come through with a career-best effort, reaching two or maybe even three sacks in a pivotal game?
Treylon Burks goes off for 150 yards, two TDs
The Titans have struggled to establish a consistent connection all season with their passing attack. They don’t have a single player on their team with more than 488 receiving yards.
But in Week 17, taking on a top-ten Dallas Cowboys defense, Joshua Dobbs, making his first NFL start, had the fourth-most passing yards by a Titans QB this season. He provides sudden hope for the receiving corps, which features 18th-overall pick Treylon Burks.
Burks, who was essentially A.J. Brown’s replacement, has struggled to make the adjustment to the pros, yet is handcuffed by a passing attack that ranks as the third-worst unit in football. We’ve seen a few drops by the first-year player, but with renewed confidence last week where the size/speed freak had his third-most receiving yards yet as a pro (66), Burks could be in for a big day.
He has just one game where he topped 100 receiving yards in 10 appearances, but the Jaguars, who have the NFL’s fifth-worst passing defense, have shown they are vulnerable to the air attack. Burks could catch fire with Dobbs under center, leading to the first multiple-touchdown effort of his professional career. For Burks, who has just one touchdown this season, it would be a big leap toward realizing his potential.
Tennessee Titans lead double-digit comeback win
As mentioned at the top, most are expecting the Jaguars, who enter the game in better health, to be the eventual winners. Sure, playing at home at TIAA Bank Field provides a slight advantage, but they also don’t have much tape on Josh Dobbs operating the Titans’ offense.
In fact, they’ve never seen both Dobbs and Derrick Henry on the field at the same time. A player who many still view as the top running back in football, Henry is an absolute monster when he’s at full health, with six 200-yard rushing games under his belt in his career.
Even if the Jaguars can get out to a two-possession lead, Henry’s ability to break off a long run, swinging the momentum in Tennesee’s favor, ensures the Titans are never really out of the game. As long as offensive coordinator Todd Downing continues to look Henry’s way, and chances are, with the playoffs on the line, he’s set to resume his role as the bellcow.
In a game where it’s win or go home, don’t expect either team to fold and give in should they get behind early. Expect a fight to the finish. If that’s the case, Tennessee’s been here time and time again, and you can bet coach Mike Vrabel’s team wants to sniff the postseason again.