There weren't high expectations out of the the bottom two teams of the AFC South from last season, coming into the 2015 NFL Season. Many expected both teams to continue their rebuilding stages, as both teams both carried youth and talent on both sides of the football. However, for both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans, their youth and talent both have a chance to go out on the national stage to prove their worth in a very unlikely scenario going out in their division right now.
The Titans had just drafted their new face of their franchise in quarterback Marcus Mariota. He may still be adapting to the game, but his talent level in the NFL has already shown since day one. In every game the Titans have won this season, Mariota had thrown for over four touchdowns on both occasions, as well as 13 touchdowns for the season. The dual-threat quarterback, who is still trying to adapt to the game, already has a statistically better season than his cohort on the other side in Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.
For the second year quarterback, he has had a much improved season than the way he started his NFL career last season. Mechanics and throwing off his back foot were some of the issues last season, but a more fluid passing mechanics has had Blake Bortles quietly having a great season. His main issues remain to be turnovers, as he has thrown eight interceptions in his last five games. While it has been known that the team wants him to play without fear, there have been many situations where he could have thrown the game away or put the team in tight spots on defense. However, the supporting cast of each quarterbacks are drastic in comparison to the production levels each team is having on offense.
For the Tennessee Titans, their running game has not been very good this season, as they currently rank 24th in the league in rushing yards per game, and second year running back Bishop Sankey had been benched for an undrafted player from the same draft class in Antonio Andrews. The team has already shuffled through multiple running backs this season to find a complimentary option for Marcus Mariota, including flex option threat Dexter McCluster, but it has not panned out yet.
As for the Jaguars, they drafted rookie T.J. Yeldon to be a three-down running back right away and it has panned out pretty well this season, being second in the league in rushing yards by rookies this season with 531 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Although he will be coming into the game with a foot injury, he expects to tough it out and play against Tennessee on Thursday.
The passing attack for the Titans has been recently decimated with injuries, as they will be without both Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, who has been placed on season-ending IR for the season, but still have talented tight end Delanie Walker and rookie Dorial Green-Beckham to pass to on Thursday. The team has also recently signed wide receivers Tre McBride and Andrew Turzilli to help in the passing game.
For the Jags, they currently hold one of the best receiving duos this season in “Allen & Allen,” Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, who both currently have over 600 yards and seven touchdowns apiece. However, with Hurns dealing with a foot injury, tight end Julius Thomas and receivers Marqise Lee and Rashad Greene will need to step up for Bortles and the Jags offense. Thomas has barely made an impact this season while Lee and Greene are coming off injuries and are attempting to regain their form.
The brightest spot on the Titans, at the moment, has to be their shut down passing defense that currently stands as the third-best in the league. Their pass rush consists of four players who have over four sacks each, the only team to yield those numbers, with guys like Brian Orakpo on the outside and Jurrell Casey on the inside wrecking havoc on the opposing team's offensive line with already 27 sacks this season. It will be an interesting matchup to see them against a very shaky Jaguars pass protection, who has allowed 28 sacks on Blake Bortles this season. However, the team's best outside cornerback Jason McCourty was put on season-ending IR and it will be an interesting test for the rest of the secondary, covering multiple young weapons in the Jaguars receiving corps.
While the Jaguars may not have as fluent of a pass rush as the Titans, they play their best when they tackle the ball-carrier, as they allow the least amount of yards per carry this season with only 3.3 yards allowed per carry. They would have to thank their talented linebackers who know how to pursue and fill up the gaps the defensive line has given them, as they are two of the tackling leaders in the league in outside linebacker Telvin Smith (88 tackles) and inside linebacker Paul Posluszny (73 tackles). The team's weakness throughout the season has been creating takeaways and they won last week by forcing four, with three coming in the third quarter. Creating more turnovers will help a very young offense move down the field easier in a game of field position, which Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley wants to win week in and week out for the Jaguars.
Another intriguing storyline to look out for is the return of Mike Mularkey to Jacksonville, as he spent the 2012 season as the Jaguars head coach, only to be fired finishing the year at 2-14, the team's worst record in franchise history. While he has a much more talented roster in Tennessee, the interim head coach of the Titans will look to lead his team to a victory with a bit of vengeance on the back of his mind on Thursday.
Each team has a purpose on Thursday with a chance of gaining closer to the division lead in a very tight and disappointing AFC South. Both teams want to keep the race for a divisional title on the back of their minds and focus on the matchup at hand, but the opportunity is there for each team to chase. In each of their regularly scheduled primetime games of the season, only one can come out of the lights as victors and one step closer for a chance of glory later on in the season.