Division Champions, the Houston Texans (9-6) head into Nashville for an AFC South clash with the Titans (8-7) with an air of arrogance about them after wrapping up the division title on Christmas Eve with a win against the Bengals. Whilst the winner takes all scenario is off the the table, both teams still have plenty to play for as we head into the final slate of regular season games.The Texans will be looking to sweep the AFC South for the first time in team history whilst the Titans will be looking to finish with a winning record, a feat they’ve not achieved since 2011.
Bill O’ Brien on Sundays game: “We’re playing to win. We’ve got a chance to win 10 games. You know, I don’t know how many double-digit win seasons the Texans have had, but I think that’s important. I think every game counts. I don’t really care what – you know, I think any time you line up in this league, I think it’s really just out of respect for the National Football League and football in general. You play to win.That’s what you do, you play to win. You know, we’re going to go out there and do the best we can to try to win, and I think that it’s a very difficult opponent, and that’s what we’re studying right now.”
Regarded by many as the most scrutinized position in sports ‘the quarterback’ will once again be at the centre of attention during Sunday’s clash. How will the Texans approach the game? Tom Savage requires more reps, but how many and will the Texans be willing to risk any potential injury in a game they no longer need to win? The flip side of the coin is Brock Osweiler, do they really want him to go back under centre, What message would that send to the team? Common sense should prevail here and look for Head Coach Bill O’ Brien to keep Savage on the field, the last thing the Texans need is more controversial headlines especially with a home playoff game on the horizon.
Unlike the Texans, the Titans have the solution to the quarterback problem going forward, despite the injury (broken fibula) sustained by Marcus Mariota in last Sunday’s defeat to the Jaguars. Matt Cassel will continue under centre (13-of-24 for 124 yards 1 touchdown, 1 interception) looking to avenge the Titans week four defeat (27-20) in the reverse fixture. DeMarco Murray will be looking to bounce back after last weeks frustrating performance (42 yards rushing). Currently ranked third in the rushing title stakes Murray will be looking to get back on track against a defense that’s ranked number one (overall) but find themselves minus two key defensive members as both Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and outside linebacker John Simon are set to miss the game to recover from niggling injuries in time for the playoffs (running back Lamar Miller and fullback Jay Prosch are also set to sit out).
A few things to keep an eye on during the contest are Texans safety Quintin Demps, on the season Demps has 4 interceptions,47 tackles, 7 passes defended and one forced fumble. Rookie wideout Will Fuller has caught 44 passes for 611 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 67-yard punt returned to the house in the first meeting. Titans Outside linebacker Derrick Morgan (9 sacks) needs one more sack as he and Brian Orakpo (10.5 sacks) aim to be the first two players in Titans history to record double digit sacks during the same season.
Outside of the talented DeAndre Hopkins who’ll draw the extra attention from a secondary that’s ranked 21st, fellow tight ends Ryan Griffin and CJ Fiedorowicz will be looking to bolster their respective career years. Griffin has reeled in 48 passes for 432 yards and two touchdowns, Fiedorowicz has reeled in 52 passes for 547 yards and three touchdowns. For the Titans offense can the promising wide receiver duo of Rishard Matthews and rookie Tajae Sharpe provide a constant and reliable outlet for veteran Cassel should the ‘exotic smashmouth’ fail to gain any traction?
Mularkey on the Titans fortunes during 2016: “Yeah, a very special team, A lot of good things to remember from this year. You know, this is my 31st or 32nd year in the league — can’t remember right now — but I’ve got about a half a dozen years that I can pull out. This is one of them. Well, I think anybody wants to have a winning record, I mean, that’s part of the process. I still think we’ve done a lot of things good and we’ve accomplished a lot of things. I think a 9-7 (record) is accomplishing something else that a lot of people probably didn’t expect.I just don’t want everything positive that has come from this season, again, to be taken away because of this past game. There’s a lot of good to be looked upon. Hopefully, we can continue that this week, and getting to 9-7 would be part of that.”