The Titans play the Panthers on Sunday in a crucial Week 9 matchup. The Titans sit at 4-4 and last in the AFC South (1. Colts 5-2, 2. Texans 5-3, 3. Jaguars 4-4, 4. Titans 4-4). The Titans will face QB Kyle Allen who is 4-1 this season as a starter. Allen has filled in for an injured Cam Newton, and he has played well. The Panthers are 4-3, and 2nd in the NFC South (1. Saints 7-1, 2. Panthers 4-3, 3. Buccaneers 2-5, 4. Falcons 1-7). The Panthers are coming off a very tough, 51-13 loss to the 49ers. In that game, Allen threw 3 interceptions and threw for just 158 yards.
Here are the Week 9 NFL games: (all games in central time)
Texans vs Jaguars SUN 8:30am (London)
Bears vs Eagles SUN 12:00pm
Vikings vs Chiefs SUN 12:00pm
Jets vs Dolphins SUN 12:00pm
Colts vs Steelers SUN 12:00pm
Redskins vs Bills SUN 12:00pm
Titans vs Panthers SUN 12:00pm
Lions vs Raiders SUN 3:05pmp
Buccaneers vs Seahawks SUN 3:05pm
Packers vs Chargers SUN 3:25pm
Browns vs Broncos SUN 3:25pm
Patriots vs Ravens SUN 7:20pm
Cowboys vs Giants MON 7:15pm
The standout games are Texans vs Jaguars, Vikings vs Chiefs, Patriots vs Ravens and Titans vs Panthers. The Texans vs Jaguars game is intriguing because it is an important AFC South matchup and it does not interfere with any other game. Vikings vs Chiefs could be Patrick Mahomes’ first game back and both team’s offenses have had a great first half of the season. Patriots vs Ravens is a matchup of two very week rounded teams and it will be interesting to see if the Patriots Steelers defense can stop Lamar Jackson.
If the Titans can do a few things and improve their play from the last couple weeks, they can take care of the Panthers. Here are the keys to the game:
1. Stop Christian McCaffrey
So far this season, Christian McCaffrey has 735 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. McCaffrey is a leading MVP candidate. In addition to rushing, McCaffrey can also catch the ball. McCaffrey is extremely explosive and stopping him is my biggest key to a Titans victory. If the Titans can just contain him, that takes a lot away from the Panthers offense.
2. Get Derrick Henry going
Derrick Henry has just 581 rushing yards and 5 TD this season. This is not bad, but he has an extremely high potential. Last week against the Bucs, the Titans did not use Derrick Henry in the redzone at all which was a mistake. Henry is incredible when he gets to the outside and the Titans need to utilize him. The Panthers have a very poor run defense, unlike the Bucs. If Henry can get going, it will help the pass game in addition to the run game. I think this will be very challenging as the Titans have many injuries, especially to the offensive line. Center, Ben Jones, was ruled out with a concussion and Tackle, Jack Conklin, is Questionable with an illness. The line will shift around, so getting Derrick Henry going may be a challenge.
3. Force turnovers
The Titans offense has proven that they need defensive help to be productive. The Titans have forced 7 turnovers this season and they must keep this up on Sunday. The secondary has had an incredible first half of the season, as has the entire defense. Adoree Jackson is back from injury which should make the secondary even better. Kyle Allen proved that he will turn the ball over after throwing three interceptions last week, so this is a good opportunity for the Titans. Getting to the quarterback will be tough but one good rush can force a turnover. If the Titans can win the turnover battle, I think they will beat the Panthers.
My biggest concern heading into the game is the Titans injuries. With Ben Jones out, Jamil Douglas will likely start at Center and Right Guard is unknown. Kevin Pamphile may start his first game as a Titan at RG but it is still up in the air. I am not as concerned about the status of Conklin because if he doesn’t play, I feel good about Dennis Kelly at RT. The Panthers have a good pass rush so the game could get ugly quickly. It will be important for Tannehill to know when to throw the ball away and when to take a sack. Delanie Walker and Jurrell Casey are also OUT for the game on Sunday. Delanie Walker is struggling to make a full recovery from his ankle injury and the Titans may wait until after the bye week to bring him back. Casey was a big surprise, he missed practice all week and was ruled OUT with a shoulder injury on Saturday. The injury to Casey will put more pressure on the rest of the Titans defensive line.
This week, the Titans announced a few roster moves. On Thursday, the Titans released KR/WR Darius Jennings and signed G Hroniss Grasu from the practice squad. This made it clear that the Titans trust Khalif Raymond to return kicks for the rest of the season. I strongly dislike this move. Jennings lead the league in kick returns last season and he is playing reasonably well this season. On Saturday, Kicker Cody Parkey was released and Kicker Ryan Succop was added back to the roster from injured reserve. Parkey didn’t play badly, but it is great for the Titans to get Ryan Succop back.
My prediction is Titans 24-16 Panthers. I think the Titans defense will have another stellar performance and Ryan Tannehill will spread the ball around. I expect a good day by the Titans receivers and I think Jonnu Smith will continue his hot streak.
This game is crucial for the Titans and the game should be very interesting. If everything comes together, especially offensively, I feel good about the game.