The American Football Conference is sure to be tough as the season progresses, and the Week 2 matchup between the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers will give us a good idea of where each team is at going forward.
Tennessee is coming off a tough loss to New England in Week 1, and while injured quarterback Jake Locker and wideout Nate Washington plan to suit up late Sunday afternoon, there is no way to project how well they'll fare against San Diego.
San Diego edged the Oakland Raiders Monday night, 22-14, and their passing attack looked sharp from the early stages. Philip Rivers has a plethora of options to go to, and the team's defense looked like it made serious improvements from last year.
Ultimately, the Titans have had trouble running the ball for two years now, and after the way San Diego shut down Darren McFadden on Monday night, I don't expect Tennessee to be able to move the ball very effectively.
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA.
When: Sunday, Sept. 16 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Listen: Online at NFL Audio Pass
Betting Line (via FootballLOCKS)
Spread: San Diego -6
San Diego only topped the Raiders by an eight-point margin, but their red zone struggles had a lot to do with that point total being in the low 20s. (Ryan Mathews being out will hurt their offense, but not dramatically so.) Rivers has big targets (Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates) and speedy receivers (Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal), and will use them frequently against a Tennessee secondary that struggled with the Patriots' similar attack. The Chargers can score, so I'd take them with the six points.
What's At Stake?
The Titans and Chargers both missed out on playoff action last year via tiebreaker, and with a top-heavy AFC (the Patriots, Ravens, Steelers and Broncos lead the way) things could get interesting for the lower playoff positions.
Both teams have the talent to compete with the best in the AFC, so Sunday's showdown will be an important step for each. The Titans need to find their misplaced running game and get pressure on the quarterback. The Chargers, meanwhile, are looking to finish in the red zone and continue to show why their defense could be a vital piece going forward.
Injury Update (Via ESPN)
Jake Locker, QB, Questionable
Nate Washington, WR, Probable
Kenny Britt, WR, Questionable
For the Titans complete injury report, click here.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Questionable
Jared Gaither, OT, Out
Shareece Wright, CB, Questionable
For the Chargers complete injury report, click here.
Titans Player to Watch: Jake Locker, QB
Assuming Locker plays on Sunday, he will be an integral component of an offense that has struggled to move the ball. He proved on Sunday—against an impressive young defense in the Patriots—that he has the accuracy and mobility to compete in the NFL. His 23-of-32 throwing performance was impressive unto itself.
Things look like they will only get better for the young quarterback if he can stay healthy. Kenny Britt could be making his season debut, and that will certainly alleviate some pressure. If Nate Washington is a go as well, Locker could improve upon his 229 passing yards from last week.
Chargers Player to Watch: Shaun Phillips, LB
Shaun Phillips has been a beast in this league since 2004—having recorded 62 sacks in his career—certainly knows how to disrupt a quarterback. On Monday night, Phillips recorded two sacks on Carson Palmer off the right edge—never making it easy for the big right-hander.
Phillips will be a nightmare for Locker if given a chance on the edge. With the young quarterback known to move well outside the pocket, he will have to keep a constant watch on No. 95 because he will be gunning for him all game.
Prediction: Chargers 28, Titans 10
With a banged-up Locker and uncertainty on the offense (Chris Johnson really needs to find a portion of his old form), the Titans will have trouble doing much of anything against the speedy Chargers defense. Philip Rivers has too many weapons and if safety-valve Ryan Mathews plays, they will have no problem scoring points.
The Titans still have aspirations of making the playoffs, but until they become more balanced, they will continue to lose to contenders like San Diego.