1. Although the Colts have already locked up the AFC South, they have three
reasons to come out hungry for a win. They're playing for home field advantage
throughout the playoffs, they can derail the momentum of a division rival who
has won five straight, and they can tie the Patriots--arguably their biggest NFL
rival--for most consecutive regular season wins (21).
2. This game is the first major test for the Titans since they began their
five-game victory romp over the Jaguars, 49ers, Bills, Texans and Cardinals.
Last week against Arizona would have fallen into that category had Kurt Warner
been behind center.
3. We'll learn more about whether or not Vince Young has truly hit his groove
as an NFL starter. While he walked away with wins against quarterbacks like
David Garrard, Trent Edwards, Alex Smith and Matt Leinart, the only really
decent counterpart he's dueled with is the Texans' Matt Schaub. I've been a
doubter of Young during this streak because his passing numbers haven't been
impressive, but last week he not only posted a 300-yard game, he put together a
well-executed drive at the end of the game that included some clutch fourth-down
throws. But can he keep up with Peyton Manning and help his team hand the Colts
their first loss of the year?
Chris Johnson is one of the game's most exciting runners.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
4. Titans running back Chris Johnson is just fun to watch. Clearly one
of the most exciting running backs in the game today, Johnson reminds me of a
slightly smaller version of former Rams and Colts great Eric Dickerson. He seems
to glide his way through the muck at the line of scrimmage with an upright
posture, and then uses that scary burst of speed that has created all kinds of
problems for defenses to chalk-up some big gains. Johnson's averaging 6.4 yards
per carry and has 32 runs of 10-plus yards.
5. The Colts' patchwork secondary has been amazing. With Bob Sanders, Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson sidelined, the Colts' secondary consists of a former
sixth-round pick (Antoine Bethea) and an undrafted third-year player (Melvin Bullitt) at the safety positions while a pair of rookies--third-rounder Jerraud Powers and undrafted Jacob Lacey--have been holding down the corner spots.
And despite having to work against the likes of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Andre Johnson over the past few weeks, the Colts secondary has performed well. They've
allowed just nine touchdowns this season through the air, putting them in a tie
for second-best in the league.
6. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning will be working against three of the
league's most-burned pass defenders. If you saw my recent feature, No
Respect: Most-Targeted Defenders, you already know this. But both of the
Titans' safeties--Chris Hope and Michael Griffin are in the top five at their
position in allowing passes thrown against them to be caught. Hope's been burned
67.6 percent of the time while Griffin is close behind at 66.7 percent. And
former Colts cornerback Nick Harper has the second-worst mark among cornerbacks
at 72.5 percent.
7. Titans rookie wide receiver Kenny Britt is coming off of a big week. He
tied his season-best mark with seven catches, and his 128 receiving yards was
his highest single-game total of the year. The former Rutgers star caught a
touchdown pass in both of his last two contests, including the game-winner
against the Cardinals last week.
Robert Mathis has a knack for stripping the ball from quarterbacks.
Harry How/Getty Images
8. Colts defensive end Robert Mathis has been on a tear, but can he get to
the fleet-of-foot Vince Young? Mathis is tied for fifth in the NFL with 9.5
sacks and has forced five fumbles, including two in the last three weeks as he
swiped the ball out of the opposing quarterback's throwing hand. Mathis also
ranks fifth in quarterback hurries this season with 14.5. But the Titans offense
has allowed just 11 sacks all season, second-best to Indy's league-best 10
9. While Tennessee won't keep up with Indy if they have to rely on him too
much, Titans kicker Rob Bironas is the league's best when it comes to scoring
from outside of the red zone. Bironas has successfully kicked 13 field goals
when the Titans offense has stalled outside of their opponents' 20-yard line.
And that could be a huge advantage at the end of the game if the Titans can keep
this contest close.
10. When the Titans snag an interception, their defensive backs can really
fly. Tennessee's pass defenders have returned eight interceptions more than 20
yards for an average return of 37.6 yards--second-best in the NFL. And they've
returned three picks for a touchdown.
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