Titans vs Bengals: Divisional Round Primer

The Tennessee Titans (12-5) host the Cincinnati Bengals (11-7) this Saturday at Nissan Stadium for their first home divisional round playoff game in 13 years.

After clinching the number one seed in the AFC two weeks ago with a 28-25 win at Houston, the Titans were able to watch Super Wild Card weekend unfold from the comfort of their own homes while getting some crucial rest. Talking about rest, how well rested will running back Derrick Henry be after not playing since Halloween in Indianapolis (assuming he is officially activated)?

If the Titans were tuned in to watch Super Wild Card Weekend, they ended up seeing their opponent in action during the first game of the weekend. Cincinnati defeated the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19, claiming their first postseason victory in 31 years. 

Quarterback Joe Burrow did not waste much time reconnecting with his former college teammate Ja’Marr Chase, as the two have turned out to be a lethal duo. Add receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to the equation, along with tight end C.J. Uzomah, and you have one of the best passing attacks in the league. And do not forget about running back Joe Mixon, who finished with the third most rushing yards in the NFL this season.

It is difficult to get a read on Cincinnati’s defense. The Bengals have allowed 22.1 points per game, but average giving up 17 points a game when playing on the road. A pretty solid unit against the run game, ranking fifth in the league for rushing yards per game. When the Titans choose to pass, Trey Henderickson and Sam Hubbard are two pass rushers to keep an eye on. 

For the Titans, their offense has averaged 27.3 points per game during their three-game winning streak to conclude the regular season. We saw Julio Jones have one of his better games in Houston since September. Let’s see if he can continue to play a significant role, along with A.J. Brown. Obviously, the biggest storyline for the offense is the return of Derrick Henry. How will he look after not playing in two and a half months? I imagine we will find out pretty quickly.

While not the best of showings in the second half against the Texans, this Titans defense will need their best effort against a high-powered Cincinnati offense. Following a late bye week in early December, there was a noticeable improvement to the Tennessee pass rush. Will the same apply this time around? It would certainly help a defensive back group that has a tough challenge of defending several talented pass catchers.

Winner heads to the AFC Championship Game. Loser heads home. Big ball game Saturday afternoon in downtown Nashville.

Game Information

Cincinnati Bengals (11-7) @ Tennessee Titans (12-5)

Game Time: 3:30 pm CDT

Location: Nashville, TN (Nissan Stadium)

TV: CBS

TV Broadcast Crew: Ian Eagle, Charles Davis, Evan Washburn

Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone

Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Rhett Bryan

Referee: Clete Blakeman

Line: Tennessee -3.5

Over/ Under: 47

Attending the Game?

12th Titan: Jurrell Casey

National Anthem: Little Big Town

Halftime Performance: Jimmie Allen

Three Things to Watch

Production in the Red Zone – Goal-to-go scenarios in this game could be really fun to watch, especially when the Titans are on offense. Tennessee had the best goal-to-go percentage in the NFL this season, scoring touchdowns 87.5% of the time in that scenario. On the opposite sideline, the Bengals bring in a defense that has the second best percentage inside the 10-yard line, allowing touchdowns on only 59.3% of their opponents’ drives that result in goal-to-go opportunities. Cincinnati will look to improve on their red zone offense after settling for three field goals on drives that entered the Las Vegas 20-yard line. Should be a fun battle to watch when either team enters the red zone. 

Pass Protection – Just a single sack separates the Bengals regular season total (42) from the Titans (43). Both teams are above the league average for sacks and have shown they can effectively rush the passer, but it is what has happened on the offensive side this season that has sacks as a part of the conversation for Saturday’s game. Joe Burrow and Ryan Tannehill were the two most sacked quarterbacks in the NFL during the regular season. Burrow was brought down a league-high 51 times, while Tannehill was dropped on 47 different occasions. The Bengals will be without Larry Ogunjobi, who’s seven sacks is good for third on the Cincy defense, while the Titans should be at full strength after a week off during the Wild Card round. We have seen what both of these offenses are capable of doing, but neither team is capable of much if their quarterback has his back on the ground. 

Limiting Big Plays – Facing such a talented group of pass catchers, the Titans must limit the big play opportunities for the Bengals’ receivers. Cincinnati had the second most receptions of 40 or more yards this season, while also finishing second in yards per reception (12.5). With playmakers such as Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, spot tackling will be a priority for the Titans defense, especially against Chase. The rookie out of LSU is responsible for eight of the Bengals’ 16 40+ yard receptions and finished tied for fourth in the league for receptions of 20+ yards. Pressuring Burrow will certainly help, but ultimately, there are some big time one-on-one battles to watch between Cincinnati receivers and the Titans defensive backs.

Did You Know?

  • Saturday marks the fourth time in the Titans Era that the team has hosted a divisional round playoff game, and in all four games, Tennessee has been paired with a present-day AFC North opponent. Baltimore defeated the Titans 24-10 in the 2000 NFL Playoffs and would eventually become Super Bowl XXXV Champions. Two years later, it was Tennessee that would advance to the AFC Championship Game with a 34-31 overtime victory over Pittsburgh. After claiming the number one seed in the AFC in 2008, the Titans fell to Baltimore in their most recent divisional round home game, 13-10.
  • The Titans enter the playoffs on a three-game winning streak, which they have not done since 2007. In their last four trips to the postseason, Tennessee has either entered the playoffs coming off of a loss (2008) or with a win in the final week of the regular season (2017, 2019, and 2020). In the Titans Era, the team is 3-2 in their first game of the postseason when ending the regular season with a winning streak of three or more games.
  • Outside linebacker Bud Dupree has had personal and team success in his career when playing against the Cincinnati Bengals. The former Pittsburgh Steeler played the Bengals twice a year as an AFC North divisional opponent and spent plenty of time in the Cincy backfield. Dupree has recorded five of his six career sacks against a Bengals’ quarterback in the last seven meetings. The outside linebacker has started 10 games when playing Cincinnati and he is a perfect 10-0 in those contests.

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