‘Thursday Night Football,’ Titans vs. Jaguars 2014: AFC South rivals battle for top draft pick

The Jaguars and Titans are having miserable seasons, but these two teams have a lot play for with the first overall pick in the upcoming draft still up for grabs.

Although the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars have long been eliminated from playoff contention, their Thursday Night Football matchup at EverBank Field is still meaningful for both 2-12 teams. The Titans and Jaguars are in the thick of a tight race for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, tied with the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for that coveted spot at the bottom of the NFL standings.

The real winner of this game is probably the loser on the scoreboard. The losing team will inch closer to securing last place in the league with a 13th loss and one game remaining on the season. The Titans are currently second in the draft order while the Jaguars are third, both trailing the Buccaneers, who own the tiebreaker advantage with an easier strength of schedule. According to Football Outsiders, Tennessee has a 30.6 percent chance to get the top pick and Jacksonville’s odds are at 13.4 percent.

The Titans won the first meeting between these teams, 16-14, and are trying to sweep their AFC South rival for the first time since 2008. This has actually been one of the most competitive divisional rivalries over the past few years. The teams split the season series in each of the previous five seasons, and six of the last seven matchups have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Digits

The Jaguars have already secured their third straight season of at least 12 losses, matching the longest such streak in NFL history. That is a dubious record for a once-successful expansion franchise that reached the playoffs in four of its first five years after entering the NFL in 1995. However, the Jags do have one thing to celebrate this week against the Titans. Thursday night’s game marks the first time Jacksonville has been favored in a game in more than two years, snapping a streak of 42 straight contests as a Vegas underdog.

Jacksonville’s defense is one of the worst in the league — 28th in yards and 29th in points allowed — but it has shown promise with a pass rush that is among the conference’s best. The Jaguars have 38 sacks this season (tied for third in the AFC) and seven more than they had all of last season, when they tied for last in the league. Football Outsiders has them ranked even higher, as the NFL’s No. 2 defensive line unit in their Adjusted Sack Rate metric, which measures sacks per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent.

The Titans pulled off one of the more surprising wins in Week 1, beating the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, but it’s been all downhill since then. They have won just one other game — against the Jaguars in Week 6 — and enter this matchup on an eight-game losing streak. Another loss will give the team its longest skid since dropping 11 games in a row in 1994, when the franchise was known as the Houston Oilers.

One of the biggest problems for Tennessee this season has been a virtual game of musical chairs at the quarterback position. The team has started three different quarterbacks this season — Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst, Zach Mettenberger — and none of them have been effective. Locker was placed on injured reserve this week with a sprained shoulder (his third different injury in 2014), and Mettenberger is also nursing a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Week 15 loss to the New York Jets. So the Titans will again turn to Whitehurst, who has an 84.9 passer rating while going 1-2 as a starter this season.

Who to Watch

Delanie WalkerWalker has been one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise dismal Titans offense. He has a career-high 783 receiving yards this season, the most for any tight end in Oilers/Titans franchise history, and fourth-most among tight ends in 2014. Walker’s ability to stretch the field sets him apart from others at his position. He averages 15.3 yards per catch, the second-highest for a tight end this year, and has 10 receptions of at least 20 yards.

Sen’Derrick MarksThe veteran defensive tackle has been the leader of the Jaguars sack party this season. He has a career-high 7.5 sacks, a surprising number given that he totaled just seven sacks in his first five seasons combined. Marks needs just a half-sack in the final two games to trigger a bonus clause in his contract that pays him an additional $600,000 if he reaches eight sacks in a season. He didn’t get to Whitehurst in their Week 6 matchup, but since then, he has registered at least half a sack in five of eight games.

The Venue

EverBank Field has been home to the Jaguars since the first game of their inaugural season in 1995. The stadium was built on the site of the old Gator Bowl and completed in just 19 1/2 months, a record-fast time for a major sport stadium in North America. Originally named Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, it assumed its current moniker in 2010 when EverBank Financial bought the naming rights to the structure. The venue hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005 after undergoing a $63 million renovation the year before.

How to Watch

Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville

When: 8:25 p.m. ET

TV: NFL Network

Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

Radio: Titans Radio Network, Jaguars Radio Network

Online streaming: Verizon NFL Mobile

Odds

Jacksonville is favored by 3.5 points at home against Tennessee, with an over/under of 40.5, per OddsShark.

Preliminary Judgment

The Jaguars are a near-unanimous pick to win at home among the experts at SB Nation and CBS Sports. The lone dissenter among the combined 17 panelists on the two sites is our own PFT Commenter, who had a single-word response when asked for his prediction: “UGH.”

Further Reading

For more on the Titans, head over to Music City Miracles.

To keep up with the Jaguars, check out Big Cat Country.

December 18, 2014 by : Posted in Uncategorized No Comments

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