Not many would have guessed that when the Tennessee Titans hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7 the Chiefs would be in last place in the AFC West.
But here we are, and the 3-3 Chiefs just seem to be off, as has star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
While the former NFL MVP leads the league in touchdown passes (18) and ranks third in passing yards (1,887), he has thrown the second-most interceptions (eight) in the NFL. In addition, Mahomes has already been sacked 10 times through six games, putting him on pace for what would be a career-high 28 sacks.
But despite the few struggles Mahomes has had this year, the Titans know from past experience just how dangerous he can be. In two games against the Tennessee, Mahomes has completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 740 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions while running for another 53 yards and a touchdown.
“That is always a challenge when you play Patrick,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “We have played him a few times and whether he drifts away from pressure or seems to know where it is coming from, his ability to put it in spaces out in front of guys in man coverage, his anticipation. Really turned the game around last year with a long scramble right before half. It will be important not only to defend him when he throws it, but when he runs it as well.”
Tennessee’s defense had its best game in a 34-31 Monday Night Football win over the Buffalo Bills earlier this week. Josh Allen still passed for 353 yards and three scores, but the Titans sacked him three times and intercepted him once. They also held Buffalo’s then-No. 4-ranked run game to just 82 yards on 23 carries.
But Kansas City’s offense is a different animal. Ranked No. 2 overall, the Chiefs feature a set of playmakers the Titans haven’t seen yet this year including Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson and Darrel Williams.
Kansas City has four receivers with 10 or more receptions, and Kelce leads all tight ends in receptions (38) and yards (468) and ranks second in touchdowns (four).
“They revolve around speed and there is a lot of precision to what they do,” Vrabel said. “It may look different based on a coverage that they see. If it is man, then [Mahomes] may want to go to Kelce somewhere because of the matchup. Or if it is zone, then he knows there is a receiver that is going to be throttling down differently in each zone. They create a lot of speed, and it is a vertical threat with the passing attack ... with guys working underneath as well.”
Here's a further look at Sunday’s matchup:
Why the Titans can win
After watching Derrick Henry make defenses look inadequate on a weekly basis, it’s not wise to bet against him.
The former Alabama standout is on pace to shatter the NFL rushing record and tie the league’s rushing touchdown mark. He currently has five straight games with 110 yards rushing or more, and he has scored three touchdowns in back-to-back weeks.
And if Henry himself weren’t enough, the Titans proved in their win over the Bills that they can never be counted out. The Titans have played some of their best football in the waning moments, outscoring opponents 58-34 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
After Monday’s game, the Titans appear to have their swagger back.
“We can handle adversity,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “We have a resilient group that has a lot of confidence that if there is time on the clock and we are within striking range, that we can find a way to get the points and find a way to win. A lot of games are going to come down to the fourth quarter in the NFL.
“We have had several successful games that we have done that. When you do that, it builds that confidence and gives you something to lean into next time you are in that situation.”
Why the Chiefs can win
Until someone knocks them off for good, the Chiefs are still the defending AFC champions, and they still have Mahomes, who is still throwing to Kelce, Hill and Hardman.
The Titans’ secondary has been hit hard with injuries and will be without Kristian Fulton and Caleb Farley, leaving Jackrabbit Jenkins, an inconsistent Breon Borders (who has gotten burned in the end zone twice in three weeks) and rookie Elijah Molden to hold down the fort. Chris Jackson, Chris Jones and Briean Boddy-Calhoun could be rotational pieces as well.
If Mahomes wanted to, he could probably throw for 400 yards on Sunday.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_