Week 15 is here for the Tennessee Titans, as they return to Nissan Stadium to take on the Detroit Lions.
This game will be the first of two straight games against NFC North opponents for the Titans, with the final one coming next weekend on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers.
Staying on topic regarding the Lions game though, it’s the same situation as last weekend when the Titans went on the road to Jacksonville.
Take care of business against an underwhelming team, continue to control your own playoff destiny, then get right back to the drawing board.
Simple enough right?
Alright then, let’s preview this game.
Major Storylines Heading Into The Game
The Titans Could Clinch a Playoff Spot On Sunday
With the regular season winding down, we’ve begun to dive into playoff clinching, and playoff seeding talk across the entire NFL.
For the Titans, they have a chance to clinch their 2nd consecutive playoff berth on Sunday, but they’ll need some other variables fall their way in order for that to occur.
With the Raiders losing, the #Titans now can clinch a playoff spot on Sunday with either:
TEN win + BAL loss
TEN win + MIA loss + CLE win
— Mike Herndon (@MikeMiracles) December 18, 2020
As you can see, either a Titans win and a Baltimore loss, or a Titans win, Miami loss, and a Cleveland win would officially put the Titans in the playoffs. Baltimore plays Jacksonville at home, Miami plays New England at home, and Cleveland goes on the road to take on the New York Giants.
If I were a betting man, I’d say Baltimore will take care of business against Jacksonville, so you can likely abandon the first clinching scenario.
The 2nd one is the one I can see happening, especially the Dolphins dropping their game against the Patriots. The Dolphins’ offense hasn’t been all that great lately, plus New England has a tendency to show up against division opponents, so you can’t completely count the Patriots out of this contest.
Matthew Stafford Is Dealing With a Very Painful Rib Injury
Last week against Green Bay, Matthew Stafford suffered a rib injury that not only caused him a great deal of pain soon after he sustained the injury, but also as he worked through the week trying to tough it out and put himself in a position to give it a go on Sunday.
Will this man start for the Lions on Sunday? Matthew Stafford no practice again pic.twitter.com/kqWPP1dZjB
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) December 18, 2020
The Lions have been careful with him, holding him out of practice Wednesday-Friday, which would normally put that player’s chances to play in doubt. Stafford is one of the toughest guys in the league, so seeing him miss practice time truly speaks volumes about how much pain he’s in right about now.
Which is why I’d question the move if Stafford is allowed to play on Sunday.
Rib injuries aren’t some run of the mill injuries. They can give you a lot of discomfort, and inhibit your ability to efficiently carry out your duties, especially if you’re a football player. Combine that reason with the fact that the Lions’ season is basically a lost cause at this point, and it seemingly makes even less sense for Stafford to play against the Titans.
But we’ve seen Stafford play through more painful injuries than this with the circumstances being as bleak as they look now, so we can’t be too surprised if he’s able to suit up.
Still though, I wouldn’t play him.
Matchups to Watch
1. Titans Front 7 vs. Lions Running Game
With Matthew Stafford’s status for Sunday’s game in doubt, Detroit’s running game will no doubt be expected to pick up the slack on offense.
Adrian Peterson and D’Andre Swift are 2 dependable, skilled backs the Lions use for the most part, with Swift being the younger, springy back that fits into what the Lions like to do with their running backs in the passing game.
Detroit will need both of them to be at the top of their game in order to keep Stafford from facing all out pass rushes on 3rd and longs, while also potentially being exposed to getting hit.
That’s where the run game comes in, to take as much pressure off Stafford as possible.
If Detroit can get their run game going, things might go a little more smoothly for the Lions on offense.
2. Derrick Henry vs. Lions Run Defense
As we all know, Derrick Henry has been on an absolute tear lately.
He’ll get a decent shot to continue that tear against the Lions, who possess the 4th worst run defense in all of football, as they’re surrendering an average of 132.8 YPG on the ground.
Those numbers should have Derrick Henry licking his chops, which should spell trouble for the still struggling Detroit Lions defense.
Most rushing yards after contact since 2019:
🔹 Derrick Henry – 2,392
🔹 Nick Chubb – 1,735 pic.twitter.com/HrFoYck4V7
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) December 18, 2020
We know what can happen if teams fall behind against the Titans, they pound the rock with Henry, and control the clock. Detroit can’t put their selves in that situation, so slowing down Henry has to be priority number one if they want to make this a competitive game.
Tennessee Titans: iDL Jeffery Simmons
With Matthew Stafford potentially playing with a painful rib injury, the Lions would be wise to lean on the running game as much as possible.
If the Lions do just that, Jeffery Simmons will be right in the thick of things in terms of limiting the success Detroit can have on the ground.
He’ll have a favorable matchup as well, with starting Lions center Frank Ragnow ruled out for tomorrow’s game due to a throat injury.
Detroit Lions: D’Andre Swift/Adrian Peterson
It’s reasonable to believe that the Lions will try to run the football as much as they can, that’s where D’Andre Swift and Adrian Peterson come in.
D'Andre Swift averages 5.4 yards per carry vs. an eight-man box
3rd best among all RBs pic.twitter.com/l8lmNX374C
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) December 18, 2020
Going out there trying to throw the ball 30-40 times a game won’t be wise, especially since you’ll be missing your starting center and potentially your starting quarterback.
Peterson can still run strong at his age, and Swift is a young back that can provide a spark out the backfield as either a runner or a receiver, so you should have a couple of guys you can turn to for some movement and security on offense. Their play will be watched even closer if Stafford doesn’t play tomorrow, but even if he does, both backs will be heavily leaned on.
The Lions could be missing a couple of key starters on offense tomorrow, so this might be another opportunity for the Titans to beat up on a bad football team.
Detroit was still a bad team with Stafford, but with Chase Daniel potentially running the show, they’re an even worse team.
Give me the Titans in this one.