The Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals will continue their march toward the regular season on Saturday as the Bengals will host the Titans in a preseason encounter. Cincinnati got off to a strong start in routing the Atlanta Falcons last week, while the Titans dropped a close decision to the Washington Redskins. Both teams would certainly love to pick up a win this week.
More important than a victory, however, is escaping Week 2 of the preseason injury-free. With that in mind, neither the Titans nor the Bengals are likely to utilize their starters for more than a couple series. Both teams are currently dealing with some injuries at the wide receiver position, and they simply can't afford to lose any more players of importance at this point.
Expectations are immense for the Bengals this season as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens both appear to be down in the AFC North. Due to a fantastic defense as well as the connection of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green on offense, Cincy could very well have the best shot at winning the division.
Hopes are a bit more modest for the Titans after a 6-10 campaign, but a playoff push isn't out of the question if running back Chris Johnson returns to form and quarterback Jake Locker finally lives up to his immense potential. None of that will be evident on Saturday, though, as both teams will focus on their younger, unproven players.
Here is a full preview of the upcoming preseason clash between the Titans and Bengals in Cincinnati.
Where: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio
When: Saturday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: WKRN 2 (Nashville, Tenn.) and WKRC 12 on tape delay (Cincinnati)
Betting Line (via Bovada): Bengals (-3)
Titans Injuries (via CBS Sports)
Out: LB Colin McCarthy (hamstring)
Questionable: WR Kenny Britt (knee), TE Taylor Thompson (shoulder)
Bengals Injuries (via CBS Sports)
Out: WR Andrew Hawkins (ankle)
Questionable: WR A.J. Green (knee), WR Marvin Jones (hamstring)
Titans Player to Watch: Justin Hunter
Many believed that Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter deserved to be a first-round pick in the 2013 draft, and while he fell outside the first round, the Titans made sure to keep him in state as they nabbed him with the 34th overall selection. The pick seemed a bit curious at first since the Titans already have guys like Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington in the fold, but Hunter has already impressed in training camp. Titans safety Bernard Pollard has been especially impressed by what he brings to the table, according to Pro Football Talk.
Bernard Pollard says Justin Hunter can destroy a defense, be a star and help the Titans win a championship http://t.co/GPJcJXXqvg— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 15, 2013
Hunter has some work to do in order to move up the depth chart, but he may be aided by his competition dealing with injury issues. Both Britt and Wright have been dealing with ailments as of late, and they each missed practice earlier in the week, according to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
It's the third straight missed practice for Britt, first for Wright #Titans— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) August 13, 2013
Although both Britt and Wright are expected to be ready for the regular season, neither has a reputation for being particularly healthy. That could leave the door wide open for Hunter. While Hunter had just one catch for four yards in Tennessee's preseason opener, he should have more opportunities to impress on Saturday. The Titans are unlikely to push Britt or Wright, and they may not even play at all, so Hunter should get more looks. In order for the Titans to be a good team this year, Locker needs to step up. He could be helped immensely by strong receiver play, and Hunter could become a go-to option for him.
Bengals Player to Watch: Giovani Bernard
Who will see the majority of the snaps at RB for the Bengals during the regular season?
There is a lot to like about the Bengals this season as their defense is stout and their passing game is efficient, but there are some definite question marks at running back. BenJarvus Green-Ellis wasn't awful last season by any means as he eclipsed 1,000 yards and scored six touchdowns, but he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, and simply isn't an explosive runner. That is likely why the Bengals spent an early second-round pick on Giovani Bernard out of North Carolina. If he plays well throughout the preseason, the starting job may be his.
Bernard's results were mixed in his first preseason game as he rushed for a mere 28 yards on 10 carries, but he did reel in three passes and score a touchdown. Bernard is a proficient pass-catcher, and that should ensure that he'll see the field regularly during the regular season even if he doesn't completely overtake Law Firm. According to NFL: Around The League, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has hinted that Bernard and Green-Ellis could potentially share the starting job.
Jay Gruden hints Giovani Bernard, Law Firm to see 50/50 split http://t.co/J00VN1mKjI— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) July 25, 2013
When push comes to shove, though, good teams need a bell-cow back. The Bengals organization would probably prefer to see Bernard seize the starting job so that Green-Ellis can be used largely in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Bernard is clearly a more complete back than Green-Ellis is, but he'll have to show that against the Titans in order to improve his chances of earning the lion's share of the carries.
Who will win this game?
The Bengals' reserves played so well in the first preseason game that it's difficult to pick against them. Not only will Bernard receive plenty of touches, but the Bengals' backup quarterbacks should play solidly as well. Josh Johnson and John Skelton were both fantastic against the Falcons, and they will almost certainly play the majority of Saturday's game.
Tennessee, on the other hand, does have an experienced backup in Ryan Fitzpatrick as he started for the Buffalo Bills over the past few seasons. Rather than risking an injury to Fitz, though, third-stringer Rusty Smith will likely get the bulk of the snaps. Due to the amount of depth that Cincinnati has on both sides of the ball, it should come away with a 27-23 win at home.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.