Titans Face Another Pivotal Test

The Cleveland Browns, led by QB Baker Mayfield, come to town Sunday for a pivotal game against the Titans. Both teams are 8-3 and each is very much in playoff contention. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

By Ron Wynn

NASHVILLE, TN — Fresh off two strong road victories, the Tennessee Titans have another pivotal game Sunday at home against the resurgent Cleveland Browns. The Browns have the identical record as the Titans (8-3), and come off a narrow victory over AFC South cellar dweller  Jacksonville. They are also very much in the playoff hunt, though the Pittsburgh Steelers remain well out in front in the AFC North. Still, this year’s Browns are doing what the team was expected to do two years ago, but flopped badly.

The Titans will be coming into this game with their offense rolling, having put up 35 first half points against a Colts defense that came into the game ranked in the top five among NFL teams in several categories. Derrick Henry is on the way to another All-Pro season, while AJ Brown continues to show there’s no sophomore jinx where he’s concerned at wide receiver, and Corey Davis keeps proving he deserves a new contract.

The biggest improvement for Titans’ fans from the 45-26 defeat of the Colts was the performance of the defense, particularly their ability to stop the Colts on third down. A team that came into the game near the bottom in preventing third down conversions held the Colts to only five in 13 third down attempts. That’s precisely the kind of effort that they will against the Browns, and also later when they face the Green Bay Packers.

The Browns lost a big part of their offense when star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. went out with an injury for the remainder of the season. They’ve also not had key defensive lineman Myles Garrett for a number of games, though he’s due back for the Titans game. But the Browns still have dangerous Jarvis Landry as a pass-catching threat, and a running attack keyed by two excellent backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Baker Mayfield has been an erratic QB much of his time in Cleveland, but comes into the Titans game without an interception in his last three games. The Browns’ secondary has had its share of injuries just like the Titans, so it will come down to which team’s receivers can get open and do damage. The Titans got reinforcements with the return of Roger Saffold and Ben Davis to the offensive line. But there remains a potential weakness with a third-string left tackle in David Queensbury. That’s a key position in both the running and passing games, so how Queensbury does will be vital.

This is one of only two theoretically difficult games left on the Titans schedule, the other being the Packers. The Lions, Jaguars and Texans are all sub-.500 clubs. But considering that the Titans played their worse game of the season against another sub-.500 team in the Cincinnati Bengals, no one is looking past anyone nor viewing any game as a sure win.