After starting off 0-1, both the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans scored big victories in Week 2 in order to even their records. The Broncos currently sit in a three-way tie for first in the AFC West, while the Titans trail the Houston Texans by one game in the AFC South.
Neither team was highly regarded entering the season, but whomever wins this game will be in prime position moving forward. The Broncos edged the Cincinnati Bengals last week despite an injury-riddled lineup, while the Titans shocked the Baltimore Ravens who were coming off a blowout over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This game could easily come down to whether Denver's injured players are able to return and play effectively. If they aren't, Tennessee could be in for a big day, particularly offensively.
Where: LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
When: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 1:00 p.m. EDT
Watch: CBS; WTVF in Tennessee and KCNC-TV in Denver
Listen: WGFX 104.5 FM (Tennessee) and KOA 850 AM (Denver); Sirius Satellite Radio - XM 229 (Internet 870)
Betting Line: Tennessee Titans (-6.5)
What's at Stake?
Both teams currently sit at 1-1, so a win would catapult one of these teams to or near the top of their division, while a loss would put them near the bottom. Both teams likely view this game as being very winnable, so while the game isn't a must-win at this juncture of the season, it could be crucial to the playoff hopes of each respective team.
With the Indianapolis Colts in dire straits due to the injury to Peyton Manning, the Titans are certainly in a playoff race with the 2-0 Houston Texans. Tennessee already beat the Baltimore Ravens last week, so a second-consecutive win would certainly bolster their resume.
The Broncos will have a difficult time winning the AFC West, although they are currently in a three-way tie for first. The bigger thing to watch for in this game is whether quarterback Kyle Orton performs well enough to keep his starting job safe from Tim Tebow.
Broncos' Injury Report
Out: WR Eddie Royal (Groin), TE Julius Thomas (Ankle)
Questionable: DB Champ Bailey (Hamstring), DL Elvis Dumervil (Shoulder), WR Brandon Lloyd (Groin), RB Knowshon Moreno (Hamstring), LB D.J. Williams (Elbow)
Titans' Injury Report
Out: RB Ahmard Hall (Suspension)
Questionable: DL William Hayes (Shoulder), DB Chris Hope (Shoulder), WR Damian Williams (Hamstring)
What They're Saying
The Broncos outlasted the Cincinnati Bengals by a 24-22 score last week despite being without five regular starters due to injury. Lindsay H. Jones of the Denver Post reports that the majority of the players who sat out last week are expected to practice and possibly play against Tennessee.
"Very hopeful," coach John Fox said Monday when asked if any of the players who missed the Cincinnati game could be back this week.
Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, defensive end Elvis Dumervil, running back Knowshon Moreno and linebacker D.J. Williams could return to practice later this week. Lloyd's return from a groin injury is crucial for the Broncos after wide receiver Eddie Royal and receiving tight end Julius Thomas suffered injuries against the Bengals.
Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has surprised many with his hot start to the 2011 season. Hasselbeck was signed to start over first-round-pick Jake Locker, and although the decision was initially questioned, it is working out well so far, according to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
The Titans didn’t sign the former Seahawk until July 29, and because of lockout-related rules he didn’t practice until Aug. 4.
“He does a great job,” Munchak said. “And if anyone could get caught up on what we were doing in a short period of time, it would be a guy like him. I am sure he feels there are a lot more things he can do. He’ll get more comfortable every week.”
Broncos Player to Watch: RB Willis McGahee
The main culprit in Denver's Week 1 loss to the Oakland Raiders was the lack of an effective running game. This forced the Broncos to pass on nearly every play and allowed the Oakland defense to disrupt Kyle Orton's timing.
With Knowshon Moreno out injured last week, Willis McGahee was used as Denver's feature back. McGahee didn't disappoint as he ran for 101 yards on 28 carries and scored a touchdown. If McGahee can have a repeat performance in Week 3, then Denver stands a chance. Otherwise, Tennessee will have a huge defensive advantage.
Titans Player to Watch: WR Kenny Britt
No wide receiver has displayed greater game-breaking ability over the season's first two weeks than the Tennessee Titans' Kenny Britt. Over Tennessee's first two games, Britt has caught a combined 14 balls for 271 yards and three touchdowns.
Britt has built an excellent rapport with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. If the Broncos are without cornerback Champ Bailey once again this week, then there is a good chance that Britt will have a field day and run rampant through Denver's secondary.
Key Matchup: Titans RB Chris Johnson vs. Denver Broncos Defense
Who will win this game?
After sitting out the entire preseason due to a contract dispute, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson has gotten off to an extremely slow start in the 2011 regular season. Johnson has combined for just 77 rushing yards over the season's first two weeks and has yet to find the end zone.
Luckily for Johnson, he will be the beneficiary of facing a weak Denver Broncos' defensive front that allowed nearly 200 rushing yards to the Oakland Raiders in Week 1. If linebacker D.J. Williams is out again for Denver on Sunday, then Johnson should have plenty of running room once he reaches the second level.
On the Hot Seat: Broncos QB Kyle Orton
After a Week 1 loss to the Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton was firmly on the hot seat. With fans calling for head coach John Fox to start Tim Tebow, Fox gave Orton a vote of confidence. Orton came through in Week 2 by leading Denver to victory, but he didn't exactly play lights out.
While Orton's job is safe for another week, he seems to be starting on a week-to-week basis. One major slip up could easily cost him his job, perhaps for good if Tebow steps in and plays well. Tennessee's secondary has performed well to this point, so Orton is in for a tough test on Sunday.
Thanks to the strong running of Chris Johnson and a myriad of injuries on the Bronco defense, the Titans pull this one out to improve to 2-1.
Titans win 24-21.