Second place in the AFC North meets first place in the AFC South in a game where the ground attacks will take center stage.
It’s arguably the biggest game in the NFL this week. A pair of 8-3 clubs collide in Nashville as the Tennessee Titans host the Cleveland Browns. It’s far less surprising that Mike Vrabel’s club currently owns the top spot in the AFC South. For some, it might be a minor shock that the Browns, under the direction of first-year NFL head coach Kevin Stefanski, are in second place in the AFC North. For the first time in over a decade, this franchise will not finish a season with a losing record.
There’s more than just identical records when it comes to the similarities between these two clubs. Both are led by relentless ground games. A year ago, Titans’ running back Derrick Henry would parlay a strong second-half into an NFL rushing title with 1,540. Second in the league was Cleveland’s Nick Chubb (1,494), who is one of the league’s hottest players at his position at the moment. Since coming back from a four-game absence via a knee injury, he’s rolled up 126, 114, and 114 yards on the ground, respectively, in victories over the Texans, Eagles, and Jaguars. Of course, Stefanski’s team also has Kareem Hunt and both he and Chubb have run for over 700 yards apiece. All told, the Browns rank first in the league in rushing yards per game (161.4) just ahead of Vrabel’s Titans (158.2).
Neither Baker Mayfield nor Ryan Tannehill has put up eye-popping numbers, although the latter has thrown for 23 scores and been picked off just four times (compared to Mayfield’s 17 TD passes and 7 interceptions). All told, these are a pair of old school clubs that rely on the ground attack. But don’t be fooled by Cleveland’s 30th-ranked passing game. The club has scored 29 offensive touchdowns, more than half of those through the air.
So with this even of a match-up, does either club have an edge? Something to keep an eye on is the return of Browns’ defensive end Myles Garrett, who missed the last two games after being place on the reserve/COVID-19 list (add). In nine games this season, he has 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Cleveland is among the league leaders with 17 takeaways. But on the flip side, the Titans have committed an NFL-low five turnovers this season.
The Browns haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002. The Titans haven’t won 10 games and/or a division title since 2008. This shapes up as quite the clash between two franchises in somewhat unfamiliar territory.