The Titans need only one win in their final two games (or one loss in either the Indianapolis Colts final two games) to clinch their second straight AFC South championship. The Dolphins just need wins to keep their wild-card playoff hopes alive, but a quick glance at this week’s football lines have Miami as +3 underdogs in Tennessee.
So something has to give at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee on Sunday afternoon.
After a 1-7 start — most of that without Tua Tagovailoa — the Dolphins, now with their starting quarterback under center, are riding an efficient passing game and solid defensive line into a potential playoff spot. Miami’s win streak has been led by the NFL’s top pass rush — the Dolphins have an NFL-best 45 sacks.
Meanwhile, the Titans are also surging after the return of superstar wide receiver A.J. Brown helped spearhead a come-from-behind victory over San Francisco last Thursday.
Prior to Brown’s return, however, the Titans offense was downright anemic. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has not created any balance on offense, has turned the ball over far too much and has been sacked more times than any player in the NFL (45) not named Joe Burrow (47).
The other side of the ball has been a very different story for the Titans. Tennessee’s very well compensated defensive front has been immovable over the last few months, turning into one of the NFL’s best units. It will be a huge challenge for Tagovailoa to consistently move the football on the road in a hostile environment.
Additionally, the weather forecast calls for the mid-30s and potential snow over the weekend, which could be something to keep in mind when examining the Over/Under NFL betting lines on Sunday.
However, despite coming from two warm-weather cities, both the Dolphins and Titans are built around physicality and toughness that should allow them to handle the elements. And both head coaches preach culture, having learned at the feet of Bill Belichick. Brian Flores for Miami coached under Belichick for more than a decade, and the Titans Mike Vrabel won Super Bowls as a Patriots player.
So it should be no surprise that these two teams mirror each other in so many ways.
This is a double mouthpiece game with frequent clouds of dust. The Titans are a 3-point favorite, and the very low total of 39.5 reflects the type of game fans should expect with the glaring exception of two offensive weapons who will likely determine the outcome of the game.
Jaylen Waddle has caught 96 passes this season for the Fins and only needs six receptions on Sunday to break Anquan Boldin’s all-time NFL rookie receptions record of 101 set in 2003. He has been targeted 33 times over the last three games and produced 28 receptions, 319 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
For the Titans, it’s all about Brown. This Titans offense jumped to life in the second half as Brown got his feet under him in his first game back from injury (he missed three games). His historic performance against the 49ers not only led to a critical win but also made history. His eight third-down receptions were the most by any NFL player since 1978, and the 69.4% of a team’s receiving yards were the most by any NFL player in any game this season.
Both offenses revolve around their running game, but only to set up how they utilize Waddle and Brown. Both defenses are capable of using just their front lines to pressure the quarterback into quick decisions. So whichever offensive coordinator can better scheme their star wide receiver open will have the best chance to win.
Sure, protecting the football, protecting the quarterback, getting stops on third down and finishing drives with touchdowns will be critical. It may sound weird to hang an outcome of a game on two wide receivers, but that is exactly what could happen on Sunday.
In a cold, physical, culture-driven match-up, two dynamic, explosive play-makers will be the difference, and whichever team better utilizes their weapon will sail into the final weekend of the regular season on a winning streak.