3 reasons why the Tennessee Titans are AFC favorites

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Despite their narrow win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 8, the Tennessee Titans did not enter Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams on a high.

Sure Tennessee was 6-2 on the season and had won four consecutive games. However, the serious foot injury two-time reigning NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry suffered against Indianapolis had people in Nashville concerned.

Apparently, those concerns represented an overreaction of epic proportions. Riding a stingy defense and some opportunistic plays on offense, Tennessee destroyed a previously 7-1 Rams team by the score of 28-16.

Staying true to Mike Vrabel’s model as head coach, it was all about hitting the Rams in the face and taking names. His defense intercepted MVP candidate Matthew Stafford twice and sacked the quarterback another five times. It was an absolutely brilliant defensive performance.

Offensively, there was not a whole lot to write home about without Henry in the mix. However, the recently-signed Adrian Peterson did score the game’s final touchdown to put it away. At 7-2 on the season, these Tennessee Titans are absolutely legit. Here’s three reasons why they have to be considered AFC favorites at the halfway point in the campaign.

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Tennessee Titans are all about old-school football with a nice mix

tennessee titans as super bowl contenders
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Smash-mouth football. Winning the battle in the trenches. These are two things Vrabel has made part of the Titans’ lexicon since taking over as head coach back in 2018. It’s one of the reasons this team is coming off two consecutive playoff appearances.

Sure a lot of that has to do with Henry’s dominating ability on the ground. But there’s something to be said about Tennessee’s physical defense. Back in Week 6, this squad took out the Buffalo Bills by the score of 34-31 in what was a high-scoring affair. One week later, Tennessee allowed the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs to score all of three points in a 24-point victory. This is the definition of a team finding different ways to win.

That was the case inside SoFi Stadium in Southern California Sunday evening. Led by stud young defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, the Titans registered 11 quarterback hits and five sacks of Mr. Stafford. To put this into perspective, Stafford had been sacked just seven times over the course of his first eight games as a member of the Rams. That dominating defensive line is built to win. It will also help the likes of All-Pro safety Kevin Byard continue to make game-changing plays like the pick-six he had against Stafford.

When the weather gets cold during the NFL Playoffs, it’s going to be much more about trench warfare than pretty passing games. Tennessee has now showed that it can take out the Chiefs, Bills and Rams playing different ways. That has the team as the favorite in the AFC heading into Week 10.

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Derrick Henry should return before the playoffs

Derrick Henry, Chiefs vs Titans
Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Initial reports after his injury indicated that Henry would miss the remainder of the season with a broken foot. That might no longer be the case.

“We’re not going to put a timeline on when he may return. I know he’ll do everything that he can to work himself back — to be able to help this football team. Whenever that is, that’s when it’ll be,” Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel told reporters. “I know he’ll be around our team as soon as he can. I know that’s important to him. I know that’ll be important to our team. We’ll have to move on without him here in the short term and not look back.”

Henry is the difference maker on Tennessee’s offense. We’re talking about a dude who has recorded an astounding 4,978 total yards and 45 touchdowns in his past 39 games. Since the start of the 2019 season, he leads all NFL running backs in attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total touches, total yards and total touchdowns.

If the Titans are able to get King Henry back for either late in the regular season or the playoffs, he’ll add another dimension to an offense that will continue to find its way without him. That will prove beneficial to quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Co. moving forward.

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Other AFC teams have more holes than the Tennessee Titans

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s just look at Sunday’s AFC action as an example. Seen as the favorites in the conference heading into their Week 9 game against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills laid a complete egg. The quarterback turned the ball over three times in a 9-6 loss to a team that had lost 22 of its previous 23.

In Kansas City, the Chiefs needed a late-game stop against the Green Bay Packers to come away with a win. Yes, the very same Packers team that was playing Jordan Love in lieu of a sidelined Aaron Rodgers. Former NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes continued to struggle under center. Now at 5-4 on the campaign, there’s more questions than answers when it comes to the Chiefs.

Sure we’re going to hear about the likes of the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns when things are said and done. It won’t be a cake walk for the Tennessee Titans. But with the easiest remaining schedule in the league, things might run through Nashville. If that is indeed the case, they have to be seen as the favorites to comes out of the AFC.