Still mathematically alive for a playoff berth, the 7-7 Titans go to Buffalo this week to face the 7-7 Bills in a playoff elimination game. The winners' hopes will remain alive for another week; the losers will have to wait until next year.
The Titans are coming off a 24-17 win over Jacksonville for their fifth in a row and seventh in nine games. The Bills shut out the Dolphins 21-0 last week and are now 5-2 in their last seven games.
Field: Grass. Forecast: A chance of snow showers, partly cloudy, with a high near 36°, chance of precipitation is 30%. Kickoff: 12:00 noon, CT.
Buffalo Scouting Report:
New GM Marv Levy and new coach Dick Jauron have turned things around faster than many expected. The Bills went into their bye week with a 2-5 record, made some changes, and are 5-2 since.
The improved play of quarterback J.P. Losman is one of the reasons for the Bills' turnaround, good enough for Jauron to name Losman the Bills starter going into next season. In the seven games since the bye week, Losman has thrown 11 touchdown passes, fourth-most in the NFL, and just four interceptions. He's now ninth in NFL passer rating at 88.5.
RB Willis McGahee, whose ability made Travis Henry expendable, has shown toughness in battling injuries this year and is on track for another 1,000-yard season.
Lee Evans has led the receivers with career bests of 70 catches for 1083 yards (7th in the league) and also has six TDs, but Josh Reed (32, 340, 2) and Peerless Price (38, 304, 3) have also contributed. Roscoe Parrish (17, 270, 2) is a deep threat with Evans. TE Robert Royal (20, 202, 3), known best for his blocking, is having his best season receiving. The Bills have been having success lately using a four-receiver set with Reed and Parrish in the slots.
One of the problems in the 2-5 start was with the O-line. After being reshuffled and revamped during the bye week, they've been given much of the credit for the turnaround. LT Jason Peters, who started the season at RT, is the best of the bunch.
The Bills rank 23rd in the league in scoring (18.9 ppg), 26th in rushing (100 ypg), 29th in passing (161 ypg), and 31st in total offense (261 ypg).
A lot of credit also must go to the Buffalo defense, which has given up only 20 points in the last ten quarters. They haven't given up a touchdown in the last seven quarters.
The main man to watch is middle linebacker London Fletcher-Baker, who is third in the NFL with 131 tackles. He also has seven tackles for losses, three interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and 11 passes defended. Veteran Takeo Spikes (54 tackles) flanks him on the left with rookie Keith Ellison (50) on the right.
RDE Aaron Schobel is going to his first Pro Bowl, and leads the league with 13½ sacks. He bookends the D-line with active Chris Kelsay (52 tackles, 5 sacks). Tim Anderson and Larry Tripplett are the DTs who keep the blockers off Fletcher.
Like Evans and Fletcher, CB Nate Clements (63 tackles, 3 INTs) is another Bill snubbed for the Pro Bowl. He and CB Terrence McGee (60 tackles) provide the leadership in the secondary which starts rookies Donte Whitner (80 tackles, 1 INT) and Ko Simpson (67 tackles, 2 INTs) at safety.
Look for the Bills to play Cover-2 most of the time in passing situations.
The Bills are seventh in the league in scoring defense (18.7 ppg), eighth in pass defense (187 ypg), 14th in total defense (325 ypg), and 27th in rushing defense (138 ypg).
Special Teams -
Buffalo is good to very good in all phases of special teams, aka the kicking game. Punter Brian Moorman is going to his second straight Pro Bowl, and is tied for the league lead with an excellent 39.5 net average. No punter has ever averaged 40 yards since that stat was first recorded in 1976. Moorman is also second in the league (behind Tennessee's Craig Hentrich) with 29 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Kicker Rian Lindell has hit 18 of 20 (90%) field goal attempts, with a 53-yarder this season. Parrish averages 12.1 yards on punt returns, second best in the league, with an 82-yard TD. McGee pulls double-duty returning kicks for a 26.4 average (5th best), and has an 88-yard return.
The kick coverage team allows only 20.4 yards per return, fourth best in the league. The punt return coverage unit allows 7.9 yards (14th). Neither unit has allowed a TD return this year.
Titans C Kevin Mawae will renew his acquaintance with Fletcher, whom he faced seven times in the last four years. LT Michael Roos will block yet another Pro Bowler in Schobel.
The Bills were reluctant to let Losman do much when he was having his difficulties, but since then they've opened it up for him, even allowing him to throw into the wind, which can often be strong gusting in off Lake Erie. It seems that Losman likes to throw short and intermediate passes early, before taking shots downfield. Even while allowing Losman to throw the ball, Jauron will like to pound the ball with McGahee against the Tennessee 30th-ranked rush defense. Defensively, they'll have a similar game plan as all the Titans' opponents: Stop the run and put Vince Young in passing situations.
There's no reason to think the Titans won't also try to run the ball first, especially on a rainy, windy, and cold day.
In December 2003, the Titans won 28-26 as Billy Volek passed for two touchdowns and rushed for another. He suffered a lacerated spleen during the game, ending his season.
Travis Henry formerly played for the Bills, as did reserve Justin Geisinger. Keith Bulluck is from New York and attended college at Syracuse. Buffalo backup QB Kelly Holcomb is from middle Tennessee.
The Titans have been finding new ways to win during their five-game winning streak and it's no time to be picking against them now. The Titans/Oilers franchise has won four of the last five games against the Bills.