It’s been a while since the Tennessee Titans hosted an AFC divisional round game at Nissan Stadium — 13 years to be exact.
It’s also been quite a while since the Titans won a home playoff game too — something that’s only happened twice during the franchise’s time in Tennessee. But Saturday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team the Titans haven’t faced in the postseason since 1990, brings the Titans one step closer to a return trip to the AFC Championship.
“Our players are deeply invested at this point,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said. “This is more than just a game. This is an opportunity to put ourselves in a position. You have to win to move on. I think we are excited, and I think we are ready to play. We have been off. These guys were prepared to play long into 2022.”
On paper, Tennessee and Cincinnati appear to match up quite evenly. However, if the Titans do hold an edge over the Bengals, it’s in the fact that they’re more well-rested heading into Saturday.
Cincinnati listed six players on its Thursday injury report, two of which were limited (WR Stanley Morgan, DT Josh Tupou), and the team will be without defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who was placed on injured reserve on Monday.
The Titans, meanwhile, are the healthiest they’ve been perhaps all season, and they’ve ruled nobody out for Saturday.
Here's a further look at Saturday’s matchup:
Why the Titans can win
The Titans have something the Bengals do not: Derrick Henry.
The 27-year-old tailback has been hurt since Week 8 when he broke his foot against the Indianapolis Colts, but he has been practicing with the team and appears to be on track to return in the postseason.
“You definitely appreciate this game a lot more when you are away from it,” Henry said. “Being away from your teammates and having that camaraderie, going to work every day and going out and playing on Sundays each and every week, you definitely miss that. Just happy to be back. Appreciative to everybody that helped me get to be able come back and contribute during the playoffs. Just happy to be back playing football.”
Henry is the Titans’ key offensive weapon; one they rely on to ignite big drives with his physicality and ability to seemingly run through a wall. His return, however limited he may be, should give the Titans offense a boost.
“I am excited to have our guys back,” Titans QB Ryan Tannehill said. “It is a little bit different when you have guys back and guys you have played with a lot. It is definitely a positive thing, but at the end of the day, you have to go make the plays and execute.
“Just because you have guys back or maybe Derrick is coming back, just because he walks out there, doesn’t mean anything is going to happen. We still have to earn it and make the plays necessary to win the game.”
Why the Bengals can win
Cincinnati’s biggest advantage coming into Saturday is the success of the Joe Burrow-Ja’Marr Chase tandem. Coming off their first playoff win in 31 years, they have undeniable momentum.
Chase had a rookie season to remember, amassing 1,455 receiving yards, 81 receptions and 13 touchdowns while averaging 18 yards per catch as Burrow’s favorite target. Burrow has been just as good individually, passing for 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns.
If Tennessee keys in on Chase, the Bengals still have Tee Higgins (74 receptions, 1,090 yards, 6 TDs) and Tyler Boyd (67 receptions, 828 yards, 5 TDs) to worry about. The challenge for the Titans lies in containing Burrow’s plethora of weapons.
“He worked extremely hard,” Vrabel said of Burrow. “Just has a really good feel for making all of the throws. He is very elusive in the pocket. I would say good play strength. He takes care of the football. They do a lot with him. He is operating from the line of scrimmage sometimes and getting them into the right call. It is going to be a huge challenge.”
Ryan Hanna is a sports intern with the Nashville Post. You can follow him on twitter @Dice_Man_21