The Tennessee Titans are gearing up for a date with the Cincinnati Bengals in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. The top-seed in the AFC had the opportunity to sit back and relax during the Wild Card Round while getting healthy in the process. Superstar running back Derrick Henry is trending in the right direction, which bodes well for Tennessee’s chances to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Here are three reasons why the Titans will beat Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
1. The return of Derrick Henry
Securing the AFC’s No. 1 seed was the best-case scenario for the Tennessee Titans. Mike Vrabel’s squad not only locked up a first-round bye and home-field advantage, but it also gave Derrick Henry ample time to get ready for live game action.
Henry has been out since Week 8 when he suffered a broken foot against the Indianapolis Colts. The initial prognosis was that the Pro Bowl running back would miss the remainder of the 2021 season. However, the team held out hope that he could return for the postseason.
Henry’s return would come at the perfect time as Tennessee prepares to host the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals. Zac Taylor’s squad knocked off the Las Vegas Raiders in the Wild Card Round and enters this contest with plenty of confidence and momentum.
Cincinnati will have its hands full if the sixth-year tailback comes back anything close to 100%. The Titans finished with the league’s No. 5 rushing offense, posting 141.4 yards per game. That’s impressive, considering Tennessee was without King Henry for the entire second half.
Ironically, the Bengals boast the fifth-ranked run defense, allowing just 102.4 rushing yards per game. Something has to give, but not many teams have slowed down a healthy Derrick Henry for four quarters. It’s difficult to imagine this matchup being any different.
According to ESPN, Henry passed the contact test at practice. “I felt great,” said Henry. “I just wanted to get some pads on. Haven’t them on in a while and got some contact going.” That’s good news heading into the matchup.
2. The Titans can exploit the Bengals’ pass defense
The Titans employ a run-heavy offense, ideally led by Derrick Henry. That’s their bread and butter. Head coach Mike Vrabel seems perfectly fine with that being the team’s identity. Still, Tennessee has the firepower to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in other ways.
If Henry plays, that will bode well for Ryan Tannehill. The veteran quarterback excels in play-action pass situations. The All-Pro running back’s presence would open up more opportunities in the passing game.
The Titans have the weapons to make life difficult for the Bengals’ secondary. A.J. Brown and Julio Jones have battled injuries throughout the season, but both appear to be healthy heading into the Divisional Round. Brown came on strong in the second half of the season. Tennessee is hoping Jones can turn things up a notch in the postseason.
The ground game battle will feature strength on strength, but Cincinnati doesn’t fare as well against the pass. The Bengals allowed 248.3 passing yards per game to opposing offenses in the regular season, the seventh-worst mark in the NFL.
The Titans won’t be looking to get into a shootout. Still, it would be wise to exploit the mismatches. Cincy’s defense doesn’t have a cornerback who can cover Brown one-on-one. That could become an issue, considering the Bengals will need to account for the run.
3. Playoff experience
The Tennessee Titans are starting to become perennial playoff contenders under Mike Vrabel. The franchise has made the NFL playoffs in each of the past three seasons.
Tennessee’s core is still intact for the most part. That recent playoff experience could prove pivotal in a matchup like this. The Cincinnati Bengals are talented, but they’re also very young. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015. Many of Cincy’s key players have never been to the postseason.
You have to give the Bengals credit for winning in the Wild Card Round. Still, the Titans are a different beast than the Raiders.
Mike Vrabel and company lost in the AFC Championship Game and Wild Card Round in 2019 and 2020, respectively. They’re hoping to get over the hump in 2021. The current defense has improved much since 2020, making the Titans a more complete football team this time around.
The Bengals won’t be an easy out by any means. However, the Titans have been here before and know what to expect. Derrick Henry being back in the fold gives Tennessee an edge in more ways than one.
Cincinnati is hungry, but Tennessee might be even hungrier because it could almost taste the Super Bowl a couple of seasons ago. Now, the Titans are seeking redemption.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.