The Tennessee Titans could put a stranglehold on the AFC South title before the calendar flips over to November.
If they win at the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, they would take a three-game lead and have the tiebreaker over the Colts by virtue of a season sweep. They would also bolster the case of some that they might be the AFC favorites.
Home wins over Buffalo and Kansas City the last two weeks have validated the Titans’ belief that they can play with anyone in the league. Their 27-3 walloping of the Chiefs on Sunday was easily the Titans’ most complete game of the year in all three phases.
“There’s not a team in this league we don’t think we can’t beat any given Sunday,” safety Kevin Byard said. “Power rankings, all that stuff, it really doesn’t matter in this league. (If) you don’t come out here and don’t perform on Sunday, you’re going to get your behinds whipped.
“That’s the bottom line. We don’t really look at who’s the best team here and there. They’re not handing out Lombardi trophies in the middle of the season.”
Which is why Tennessee (5-2) says it’s not taking Indianapolis (3-4) lightly, even though it owns a 25-16 win over the Colts on Sept. 26. Derrick Henry rushed for 113 yards and Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns while the defense allowed just 265 yards.
Since then, Indianapolis has found traction for the first time in 2021. The Colts have won three of the last four games, including a 30-18 decision last week in a rainstorm at San Francisco. After trailing 9-0 early, the Colts controlled most of the last three quarters.
Carson Wentz played a much better game than his stats — 17 of 26, 150 yards — indicated, throwing for two touchdowns and running for a third. The defense limited the 49ers to 280 yards and came up with four turnovers.
The version of Wentz that limped through the first meeting in Nashville bears scant resemblance to the one taking the field for the rematch. Wentz played with two sprained ankles last month and had no rushing attempts for just the second time in 75 NFL games.
“When the play’s there to be made — whether it’s improvising, scrambling, running or whatever that is — I’m not going to shy away from it,” he said. “We’re still going to try to make those plays, still be smart, protect myself, all those things. But yeah, that’s the type of player I am and competitor I am.”
Wentz and Indianapolis are hoping to crank up the running game with second-year pro Jonathan Taylor. He collected 107 yards at San Francisco, his third 100-yard effort of the year, and has 579 yards for the year, second in the NFL.
That still pales in comparison to what Henry continues to do to NFL defenses. Even though his five-game streak of rushing for at least 100 yards ended against Kansas City, Henry’s 869 yards is more than all but seven teams in the league.
And he might have the Titans’ starting left tackle back in the lineup. Taylor Lewan (concussion) returned to practice Wednesday after missing the Kansas City game.
If Tennessee prevails, it will mark the first time it has won three straight games in Indianapolis.