After seemingly ending the New England Patriots’ dynasty in Foxborough last week, the Tennessee Titans are playing the Baltimore Ravens with house money.
We thought they made better than a puncher’s chance last week at Gillette Stadium, but the Tennessee Titans shocked all of us by doing nearly the unthinkable. The No. 6 seed in the AFC went into Foxborough and ended the New England Patriots’ playoff run on Wild Card Weekend. The Titans were giant killers by slaying the Evil Empire in primetime, but they’re not done just yet.
As New England has to watch the divisional round from home on the couch like the rest of us, Tennessee has yet another formidable challenger on Saturday night. The plucky Titans will face the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in primetime. A win over soon-to-be NFL MVP Lamar Jackson over on Russell Street will give the Titans their best season in nearly 20 years.
This will be the seventh AFC Divisional Round game for the Titans since 1999’s rebranding. However, they have lost their last three divisional-round games dating back to the late Steve McNair’s MVP season in 2003. 2002 was the last time the Titans played in an AFC Championship. That’s what’s on the line this week in Baltimore, and Tennessee is playing with house money.
The Ravens went 14-2 and earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC. This is something that hasn’t happened since their 1996 rebranding. They’ve been to two Super Bowls and won both, but never have had the luxury of hosting an AFC Championship at M&T Bank Stadium. This is untrodden territory for Ravens Flock. The crowd will be fired up, but are the Ravens ready to be the hunted?
As for Tennessee, this is a team that went 2-4 to start the year, looking nothing like a playoff team in mid-October. Then, a quarterback change from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill was the spark this Titans offense needed to be great in the second half. Sure, the Titans only scored 14 points on the road vs. New England, but nobody wins in Foxborough in the postseason; only the Patriots do.
Baltimore is riding a 12-game winning streak and hasn’t played a game with a true playoff atmosphere in months. All the while, Tennessee has scratched and clawed its way into the AFC playoffs the last few weeks, with one Derrick Henry carry at a time. The Titans are battle-tested and have no reason to fear the Ravens on Saturday night. They’re poised for an upset yet again.
Tennessee is in a very curious spot. The Titans match up well with all three opponents they could face the rest of the way in the AFC. If they beat Baltimore, the Titans will face the winner of the other divisional-round game between the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs, two teams Tennessee already beat this year. The Ravens need to get ready for what’s about to hit them hard.
Essentially coming off a double-bye because they rested starters vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17, the Ravens haven’t been subjected to substantial physical contact in about three weeks. The Titans offense is a battering ram with Henry as its bell-cow. They also have a competent quarterback in Tannehill who is willing to throw it deep to wide receivers like A.J. Brown regularly.
Baltimore should be thanking its lucky stars this game is at night. Had this game been an early-afternoon affair, sleepwalking on this Titans team in the first half might have yielded the most shocking upset of the playoffs through two rounds. Truthfully, that most shocking upset narrative is still in play. Baltimore should win this game, but New England should have won last week, too.
Eventually, the clock will strike midnight on this Nashville Cinderella football story. The Titans will slip up at some point, losing their glass slipper in the process because the stage is too big and too grand for them. Tannehill will turn into a stop-gap quarterbacking pumpkin and we’ll wonder how Mike Vrabel’s Titans fooled us into thinking they were something they were not: bona-fide.
It has been a magical second half for the Titans, but one that will not give us the storybook ending Hollywood demands. But as long as Henry is under contract, Tannehill is playing like a Pro Bowler and Brown forgets to remember he’s only a second-round rookie out of Ole Miss, let’s enjoy this beautiful ride that is the 2019 Titans. The crash is coming, but it may not be coming on Saturday.