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NFL Thursday Night Preview: Jaguars @ Titans

The AFC South has been a rollercoaster ride this season, from a sluggish start to a midseason peak and now potentially an underwhelming finish. The Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) have had a miserable season since winning three of their first four games, but have a bit of a spring in their step again after shutting out the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans (6-6) limped to a narrow win over the New York Jets at the weekend to keep their wildcard hopes alive. Marcus Mariota and company can increase the pressure on the Baltimore Ravens (7-5 and currently sixth) with a win here.

We break down what could be an old school, low-scoring battle (especially after the Titans won the first meeting of the season 9-6):

Will the Jaguars defense continue where they left off on Sunday?

The Jacksonville defense finally looked like their 2017 selves at the weekend, giving Andrew Luck headaches from the first whistle. A Colts offense that had routinely been putting up 28 points could not even register a field goal. On paper, the Titans should offer fewer threats in the passing game, but the Dion Lewis-Derrick Henry combination has the potential to move the chains in the way that Indianapolis’ running game did not.

Can Cody Kessler get through another game without turnovers?

Kessler was expected to be left in the dust by Luck last weekend but instead turned in a solid 18-for-24 passing game, throwing for 150 yards with no interceptions. That last part is the key. With Leonard Fournette back this week after his Week 13 suspension, there is even more reason for Kessler to keep things simple and hand the ball off on first and second downs. If Kessler puts together another steady game, it will cast yet more doubt on Blake Bortles’ future in Jacksonville.

If Jalen Ramsey shuts down Corey Davis, who will step up in the Tennessee passing game?

Like the Jaguars, the Titans will be best served trying to establish the running game or springing Lewis out of the backfield for short gains. But at some point Mariota (another rushing threat) will have to take bigger shots on third-and-long. If Davis is shadowed by Ramsey (who was admittedly limited in practice this week by a knee injury), it will be up to Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe to create separation and replicate their strong play from last weekend, where they combined for six catches and 155 yards.

The pick: Titans to win by four points or more. With their season on the line, it is hard to feel confident that Mariota will find holes in this Jacksonville defense, but equally (and perhaps even more so) the idea of betting on Kessler to win on the road brings forth red flags. The total points over/under line is set around 37.5, and the under is worth a look given that neither team executes at a high level offensively. Both defenses are expected to dominate and the two punters should be busy.

About Tom Oldfield

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