The 8-5 Arizona Cardinals travel to Nashville, Tennessee Sunday to take on the 5-8 Tennessee Titans in a match that definitely has playoff implications, albeit it small for the Titans. The Cardinals sit one game back from the San Francisco 49ers who currently hold the 6th seed in the NFC. The Titans sit at 10th 2 games behind Miami who currently hold the 6th seed in the AFC.
The Titans need a lot more help to make the playoffs happen than the Cardinals. The Cardinals just need to control their own destiny by winning. While not guaranteed a playoff spot if they win out, they are certainly in a better situation than the Titans.
This is the 9th meeting between the two teams going back to their days as the Houston Oilers and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Titans have won 3 of the last 5 but the Cardinals lead the series 5-4.
The Cardinals are going to be without sensational third round defensive back Tyrann Mathieu after losing him to an ACL injury. Bruce Arians has said it will take two guys to replace him and indeed he played multiple positions in that secondary. The Titans might be able to get some favorable matchups Sunday.
Turning to the current injury front, tight end Rob Housler, who has been a big component in that offense since returning in Week 3. While it took him a while to get going, he is getting a lot of targets now. The Titans gave up a touchdown to tight end Julius Thomas last week against Denver, and gave up touchdowns to tight ends early on. Michael Floyd, Andre Ellington, Carson Palmer and guard Paul Fanaika were limited in practice Friday.
For the Titans, Delanie Walker is practicing and expected to play which is great news for the Titans offense. He is probable to play. The big injuries are to linebacker Akeem Ayers and cornerback Alterraun Verner who are both listed as questionable with groin injuries. While I expect them to both play, it would be a nice opportunity to see some young guys like linebacker Zaviar Gooden and cornerbacks Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson to get more opportunities. Sensabaugh plays the slot position but could move outside.
For the Titans defense, they need to try and get pressure on Carson Palmer who is playing some really good football right now. Per Pro Football Focus, Carson Palmer has a completion percentage of 50% when he is under pressure. He has 8 batted passes. The Titans defenders have knocked down some passes this year so look to see if they are successful Sunday.
Looking at the Cardinals wide receivers and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has benefited from Palmers’ improved play. He has 67 receptions for 774 yards and 10 touchdowns on the year. Second year wide receiver Michael Floyd has 56 receptions for 886 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Titans secondary has been excellent this year and this game will be another test for them.
From the defensive side, the Cardinals front 7 is one of the most talented in the league. Right inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has 6 sacks on the year while left outside linebacker John Abraham has 11 sacks on the year. Dansby also leads the team in tackles with 105. Left defensive end Calais Campbell has 6 sacks of his own. The Titans will need to be great in pass protection to allow Ryan Fitzpatrick an opportunity to make plays.
Titans rookie wide receiver Justin Hunter posted his second 100+ yard receiving game in Week 14 against the Denver Broncos, and it appears the light bulb has gone off. There is every reason to believe that bulb will continue to get brighter and brighter. Hunter still needs to work on his hands but he is off to a nice start in his rookie season. Look for him to continue to get even more playing time in the final 3 games. On the year, Hunter has 18 receptions for 354 yards and he is in second place in touchdowns with 4.
As I mentioned before, Titans tight end Delanie Walker will be back in action and he is leading the Titans in touchdowns with 5 on the year. Walker adds an element to the offense that cannot be overated. He has been consistently good helping out blocking in both the passing and the run game, while being able to stretch the field and catch passes to extend the chains. He and Ryan Fitzpatrick have a really nice chemistry together and they are fun to watch as veterans who know how to extend plays.
It will be interesting to see what the Titans do with Chris Johnson this game given Tommy Smith and his comments. The Titans are in a darned if you do and darned if you don’t period with the enigmatic running back. The truth is that Johnson isn’t a complete running back anymore and it limits the Titans offense. They get criticized when they take him off the field. They aren’t paying him to be a gimmick which is what he might be right now. Regardless, it’s clear everyone will be moving on soon.
Look for Shonn Greene to continue to be worked into the mix and don’t discount big Quinn Johnson making some plays out there too. The fullback had a pretty nice game in his first action since returning against the Denver Broncos. Watch out for some screen action which the Titans have done fairly successfully this year.
Finally, Leon Washington so far has been nothing short of great in the return game and almost busted off a touchdown last week. Can he do that in Week 15 before the home crowd? Clearly the guy still has it and the Titans are lucky to have picked him after he was released by the New England Patriots.
The game will kickoff at L.P. Field at 4:25 pm. EST and will be broadcast live on Fox Sports. Justin Kutcher and Charles Davis will be the game announcers. Pete Morelli and his crew will officiate this week’s game.
Final score prediction: