By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
It’s not a secret. Andrew Luck has owned the Tennessee Titans during his seven seasons in Indianapolis. The former top overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft is 10-0 against his AFC South rivals as the Colts visit Nashville this Sunday night in a win-or-go-home battle to claim the second wildcard spot in the AFC and potentially win the division.
In those ten career meetings Luck has completed 63.2 percent of his throws for 2,650 yards and 18 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. If you take away the first four games in the series Luck has connected on two-thirds of his attempts for 287.5 yards per game, 16 touchdowns and only four picks.
Seven of the meetings have been one-score games, including both contests in 2016 when the Titans lost a head-to-head tiebreaker with Houston for the division title, leaving Tennessee out of the playoffs that year.
The two meetings during Luck’s second season in 2013 were decided by a combined 11 points. Had the Titans pulled out both games they would have won the AFC South. Instead they missed the postseason that year as well.
It’s the most recent meeting from Nov. 18 that shows how well Indianapolis matches up against Tennessee. Luck went 23 of 29 for 297 yards and three touchdowns, including a 68-yard strike to T.Y. Hilton. The Colts won by 28, the largest margin over the Titans in Luck’s career. It was also the first time Luck didn’t throw a pick, get sacked or fumble in a single meeting against Tennessee.
However, the optimism for Tennessee comes in unconventional ways entering Sunday night’s game at Nissan Stadium.
First off, the Titans are 17-6 at home since the start of the 2016 season. Tennessee finished 5-3 at home two seasons ago and 6-2 last year en route to a playoff berth. Mike Vrabel’s team is 6-1 in Nashville this year with the lone loss being a 21-0 shutout against Baltimore. Tennessee has been able to steal close home wins against Houston, Philadelphia, the New York Jets and Washington this year while blowing out New England and Jacksonville.
Second, while the injury situation is tough the Titans have won a game without Marcus Mariota already this season. With Mariota sidelined with a hand injury in week 2 Tennessee found a way to beat the Texans with Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert stepped in again on Saturday after Mariota was knocked out of the game against Washington and threw the game winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee will need to utilize Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis out of the backfield to help offset the loss of Mariota if he can’t go. Henry has been highly productive for Tennessee’s offense during its current four-game win streak. The Colts rush defense ranks eighth in the league, but Henry has gotten hot at the right time.
What also gives Tennessee life is the game being flexed into the Sunday night slot on NBC. In primetime games this year the Titans have taken the Chargers to the wire in in London, hammered the Cowboys in Dallas on Monday Night Football and ran all over the Jaguars on Thursday night earlier this month before beating the Redskins on Saturday.
Tennessee also finds itself in familiar territory this time of year. The last three Decembers the Titans have been in the playoff hunt needing to pull out big wins to see the field in January. Two seasons ago the Titans pulled off monster wins against Denver and Kansas City before losing Mariota to a leg injury in a loss to Jacksonville that ultimately knocked Tennessee out of the playoffs. Last year Tennessee suffered a three-game skid, but managed to beat the Jaguars in the season finale to clinch its first playoff berth in nearly a decade.
This December Tennessee entered the final month of the season with a 5-6 record needing to win five straight and get a lot of help from the rest of the league.
The Titans have four of the five wins and got all of the help they could’ve asked for. Tennessee officially controls its own destiny.
It’s been a team that’s found a way all season long. It found a way to convert multiple fourth downs in overtime against the Eagles, it found a way to defeat Tom Brady and the Patriots, it found a way to survive a pesky Jets team at home and it found a way to overcome losing its quarterback in a division game while missing its two starting offensive tackles back in September.
A loss and Tennessee’s season is over. A win and the Titans hit the road to start the postseason. A win and a Texans loss? The Titans stay put and host a playoff game for the first time in ten years.
Sure, the optics of 0-10 in any scenario are rough on the eyes, but if there’s a team that’s ready to say the eleventh time’s the charm, it’s this Titans team. Let’s face it. Nothing would be a surprise if you’ve followed this team all year.
See you on Sunday night.