Commentary

Win over Jets will set Titans up for 14-0

If the Titans beat the Jets, Tennessee is set up nicely to run the table to 14-0. Then Titans coach Jeff Fisher will have decisions to make, John Clayton writes.

Originally Published: November 20, 2008
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Kerry Collins and Brett FavreScott Boehm/Getty ImagesTennessee QB Kerry Collins' numbers pale in comparison to Jets QB Brett Favre's, but who's 10-0?
At some point, the unbeaten Titans figure to lose. Or will they?

Tennessee has mastered its first 10 opponents with a physical style of offense and defense, efficient play from quarterback Kerry Collins and great coaching by Jeff Fisher and his staff. The Titans play with confidence, but not with the swagger of the 2007 Patriots. The Titans are humble enough to accept they aren't perfect and could lose.

Sunday's game against the 7-3 New York Jets in Nashville will be an intriguing test. Expect a close, low-scoring game, which is the Titans' style. The only teams they've beaten by more than 10 points are the Bengals, Vikings, Texans and Chiefs. They've won their past three games by three, seven and 10 points. The Titans play 60-minute football, and usually need all 60 minutes to lock up a victory.

Of course, one misstep and the unbeaten season will fall, which probably won't faze this team a bit. Maybe that's why Don Shula and the members of the 1972 Dolphins -- who annually pop champagne when the last unbeaten team loses -- haven't started to sweat yet. But if the Titans beat the Jets, the '72 Dolphins might head to the kitchen for a towel to wipe their brows.

The Titans could go to 14-0 if they get past the Jets. Their next three games are at the winless Lions, home against the 4-6 Browns and at the 3-7 Texans, all winnable games. Tough decisions could come in the final two weeks. The Titans play the Steelers in Week 16 and finish the regular season at the Colts. Fisher might have to decide whether it's worth making a record-tying run or resting players heading into the playoffs.

Thanks to the trade for defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and good defensive schemes by Eric Mangini, the Jets have the ability to take the run away from the Titans. The Bears did it in Week 10, holding the Titans to 20 yards on 29 carries and forcing Kerry Collins to win the game through the air. The Jaguars played keepaway from the Titans in the first half in Week 11, jumping to a 14-3 lead and limiting the Titans to 42 first-half rushing yards.

Collins' numbers aren't pretty, but his record is. He has completed only 59 percent of his passes, has a QB rating of 82 and only eight touchdown passes. In the fourth quarter, he has completed only 54.5 percent of his passes and has only two TD passes. In the fourth quarter, the Jets' Brett Favre has completed 73.6 percent of his passes and has seven TD passes.

A Titans win could give them hope of getting to Week 16 undefeated. At that point, their chances of a perfect season must be reassessed.

1. New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals: Believe it or not, the Cardinals can clinch the wretched NFC West with a victory and a 49ers loss. The Giants have a commanding three-game lead in the NFC East and a one-game lead over the Panthers for top seed in the NFC. Either team can survive a loss, but neither wants to go through that.

Giants halfback Brandon Jacobs banged up a knee in the first half of a Week 11 win over the Ravens. Though he wants to play and figures he can, he'll let the team decide how it wants to use him. Without Jacobs' battering-ram style, the Giants look more vulnerable to the upset. The danger facing the Cardinals is how the Giants' blitzing schemes could force Kurt Warner into turnovers.

2. New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: Joey Porter called Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel nothing but a backup before the first meeting with the Patriots. Porter, the league's sack leader with 13½, sacked Cassel four times in that Week 3 game as the Dolphins blew out the Patriots 38-13. Porter called the Patriots out as a team this week, and a lot is at stake.

Miami (6-4) could move ahead of the Patriots (6-4) as a playoff contender with a victory, putting New England in third place in the AFC East. If the Dolphins win, their schedule is easy enough to take them to 10-5 by Week 17. Big money is on the line for Cassel, whose contract is up at the end of the season. A loss will put his starting record at 5-5 and could cost him the chance to get big money in free agency.

3. Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: Although Falcons rookie QB Matt Ryan played well last week, Atlanta lost to the Broncos at the Georgia Dome 24-20. So are the Falcons a contender or pretender? This game will determine that. The Panthers won the first meeting 24-9 on Sept. 28. Ryan will have a tough time throwing into the Panthers' secondary, one of the best in the league. Falcons left tackle Todd Weiner will have a tough time with Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who has been dominating lately. The Panthers' biggest concern is stopping halfback Michael Turner.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning was 0-2 against the Chargers last season, but Week 12 is a chance for retribution.
4. Indianapolis Colts at San Diego: Any other week, the Colts might feel better about this trip to San Diego. But the timing of this game is bad for the Colts, because the Chargers are as desperate as it gets. If San Diego loses, it can forget about the playoffs. The Colts don't match up as well against the Chargers' 3-4 defense. In 2007, San Diego beat the Colts 23-21 in the regular season, intercepting Peyton Manning six times, and beat them in the playoffs in Indianapolis. The Chargers (4-6) have underachieved, but owner Dean Spanos on Wednesday said Norv Turner will be back as head coach in 2009.

5. Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints: This might be one of the more fun "Monday Night Football" games (ESPN, 8:30 ET), because it combines desperation and scoring. Both teams are 5-5 and can't afford a loss. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees can put up good numbers on any defense.

The Saints' Brees is gunning for a 5,000-yard passing season and Dan Marino's season yardage record. Brees already has 3,251 yards passing, but he will be throwing into a tough Packers secondary that loves to play man-to-man. A confident Rodgers shredded the Bears in Week 11, giving the Packers momentum to win the less-than-thrilling NFC North.

New Orleans' Reggie Bush practiced Wednesday, and Brees is going to need him and every weapon to try to get a victory. A loss would put the Saints' playoff hopes on life support.

6. Philadelphia Eagles at Baltimore Ravens: The Eagles called more meetings this week than the Big Three automakers. Safety Brian Dawkins called a players-only meeting. Coach Andy Reid called a meeting. Donovan McNabb met with those advising him on the overtime rules. Of course, if you can't beat the Bengals in five quarters, you might want to employ a Senate subcommittee to investigate.

It's hard to confirm the Eagles are in free fall when they are 3-1-1 in their past five games, but they were blown away by the Giants and tied the Bengals the past two weeks. The Ravens were spanked by the Giants last Sunday and know the overtime rules, so they had no reason to call any meetings. They realize they have to play better to win.

7. Minnesota Vikings at Jacksonville Jaguars: The Vikings seem to be battling the NFL more than opponents. Defensive end Jared Allen had to fly to New York this week to make sure he wasn't suspended for a helmet hit on quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Allen received a $25,000 fine and no suspension. Defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams are appealing a possible four-game suspension for taking water pills that included a substance banned by the league. Defensive end Ray Edwards faces a possible fine for a hit he made last week on Bucs QB Jeff Garcia. You wonder if the defensive line will have enough energy left to contain the Jaguars for this important road game.

8. Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs: Tony Gonzalez is bothered by an ankle injury, and it might help Bills fans if he sits. Seeing Gonzalez may only inflame fans who thought the Bills blew it by not trading for Gonzalez. The Chiefs weren't going to take less than second- and fifth-round draft choices for the Pro Bowl tight end. The Bills, who have lost four straight, didn't offer enough. Buffalo's Lee Evans has been bottled up in double coverage the past three games, and Trent Edwards is lost without a No. 2 receiving option. Since the trade deadline, Gonzalez has 34 catches for 390 yards over the past five games. Put Gonzalez on the Bills and they'd probably be first in the AFC East.

9. Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks: The Redskins surprised the football world by hiring Jim Zorn off the Seahawks' staff. In his return to Seattle, Zorn will bring back former Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander and cornerback Shawn Springs. The interesting debate in Seattle is whether they made a mistake in letting Zorn leave. Jim Mora is the head-coach-in-waiting, and Zorn didn't stay in Seattle because he wasn't certain he would be the offensive coordinator for Mora. This will be a friendly reunion off the field because Zorn is so well-liked by the Seattle staff.

On the football side, Zorn must get his offense going soon, or the playoffs will slip away. In the past five games, the Redskins are 2-3 and have scored only 68 points. At 2-8, the Seahawks can only play the spoiler role.

10. Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: In Week 1, the Broncos blew out the Raiders 41-14, a game that served as a good indicator of very bad things to come for Oakland. The Broncos jumped to a 27-0 lead and Jay Cutler needed only 24 attempts to throw for 300 yards. Rookie Eddie Royal burned former Raiders cornerback DeAngelo Hall for nine completions for 146 yards and one touchdown. Hall was released after eight games.

The Broncos can use this home game to gain more distance from the Chargers in the AFC West. Denver didn't have wide receiver Brandon Marshall for the opener because he was serving a one-game suspension for violations of the league's player-conduct policy. Now, Oakland must worry about Royal and Marshall.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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