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Cardinals vs Titans: Week 1 NFL preview

The Tennessee Titans face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season, a matchup between Kyler Murray and Ryan Tannehill.

Click here to see where the Cardinals and Titans land in our Week 1 NFL power rankings

Cardinals vs Titans: What you need to know

Let’s dive into the key matchups that will decide a thrilling Cardinals vs Titans contest.

Ryan Tannehill vs Kyler Murray

Cardinals vs Titans, Kyler Murray
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Tannehill is off the reserve/COVID list in time for Week 1, opening the door for a tasty matchup. Believe it or not, he has played like an MVP-caliber quarterback over the past two seasons and the Titans just added Julio Jones to the receiving corps. Keep that in mind against Arizona’s defense.

We won’t call this a pivotal year for Kyler Murray, if only because his career could be revitalized by another head coach. Entering his third season, Murray has vowed to run less this season and to use his natural arm talent. That’s exciting to think about, especially against the Titans’ defense, but there are reasons for concern.

  • Mr. Underrated: Over the last two seasons, Tannehill has completed 67.3% of his passes and holds a 55-13 TD-INT ratio with a 110.6 passer rating. For comparison, Russell Wilson (105.7) and Aaron Rodgers (107.9) are well below him over that same stretch. Tannehill can make a case to be a top-five quarterback in 2021.
  • Jekyll and Hyde: Through his first eight games last year, Murray posted a 99.3 passer rating with a 16-7 TD-INT ratio and completed 68.1% of his passes with eight rushing touchdowns. In the second half, he only scored three rushing touchdowns, posted a 10-5 INT ratio and his passer rating (89.3) fell significantly.

Ultimately, we expect both quarterbacks to post monster numbers. Each is a safe bet for 250-plus passing yards and multiple touchdowns. However, factoring in consistency and surrounding talent, there is a clear edge to this battle.

Advantage: Ryan Tannehill

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Derrick Henry vs Cardinals’ defense

Cardinals vs Titans, Derrick Henry
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

If Arizona’s defense is looking for something to feel good about heading into this matchup, we found it Across his career, Derrick Henry’s worst stretch of football comes in September. He averages 4.96 ypc in his career but just 3.8 yards per rush in the first month. The month is the only thing the Cardinals should gain confidence from.

  • Arizona’s Front: The Cardinals made significant changes to their front seven this offseason, signing JJ Watt and drafting linebacker Zaven Collins. A 6-foot-4 linebacker who can plow through ballcarriers like a battering ram is a nice boost, but this defense allowed 4.6 ypc last season and surrendered six 110-yard games in the last seven weeks.
  • Rock and a Hard Place: The Cardinals vs Titans matchup will be our first look at what decision defensive coordinators make. Arizona is welcome to stack the box against Henry, but that means leaving its woeful secondary in a terrible spot against A.J. Brown and Julio. On the other hand, if the box is light, Henry might go for 200.

Advantage: Derrick Henry

DeAndre Hopkins vs Titans’ secondary

Cardinals vs Titans, DeAndre Hopkins
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy owners must watch the Cardinals vs Titans game. We’ve highlighted the matchups between Tennessee’s wide receivers and Arizona’s cornerbacks along with Henry against the defensive front. But it would be shameful to look past DeAndre Hopkins against Tennessee’s secondary.

The Titans did make an effort to improve this spring, signing Bud Dupree to bolster the pass rush and Janoris Jenkins to add a reliable coverage presence on the outside. Will it be enough? We have reason to think it might not come close.

  • Father Time is Calling: Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins has plenty of experience against elite wide receivers, but declining athleticism and a lack of size (5-foot-10) catch up eventually. Jenkins started falling off at the end of the year and could be taken to school by Hopkins.
  • Help Wanted: Arizona needed to find a No. 2 wide receiver this past offseason. After Hopkins averaged 12.85 ypc and9 95.6 yards per game in his first nine contests, defenses threw more attention his way. In his final seven games, he averaged 11.3 ypc and 78 yards per game. With AJ Green and Rondale Moore in town, bracketing Hopkins won’t be quite as easy.

Advantage: DeAndre Hopkins

The bottom line: Easily one of the best Week 1 games on the schedule. Cardinals vs Titans will deliver plenty of highlights, a 40-plus yard touchdown and as many points as fans could hope for. If you’re looking for a defensive chess match, you’ll want to look elsewhere.