The League

Desmond Bieler
Occasional Blogger, Constant Blowhard

Desmond Bieler

An assistant news editor at The Washington Post

Jacksonville at Tennessee, Week One

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Sunday, 1 p.m.

Two of the league's tougher teams square off as the fight begins for supremacy in the AFC South, the league's toughest division. Of course, someone also has to finish last in the league's toughest division and, well, that's just tough. Many people think Indianapolis will take a step back this year and finally cede the top spot to Jacksonville. Many people also think that Houston is finally ready to make the playoffs. Those scenarios leave Tennessee in the "somebody's gotta finish last" spot, unless the Colts really fall off the cliff, which, if Peyton Manning isn't completely ready to go, is entirely possible. But for now, it appears that the Titans are facing the steepest climb to the postseason, making this home game a very, very early must-win.

Too bad for Tennessee that the Jags are the fastest-starting team in the NFL, with a league-best .692 winning percentage (9-4) on opening day. Jacksonville has also won three of its past four in Music City. More importantly, the Jags might have a significant edge at quarterback with David Garrard, which few would have expected when Tennessee made Vince Young the third overall pick of the 2006 draft. At that time, Garrard was the relatively unknown backup to Byron Leftwich, while Young was a college superstar with all sorts of talent. But last year, the Titan showed all sorts of talent for throwing the football to the wrong people, finishing with 17 interceptions against just nine touchdown passes, while Garrard was doing the exact opposite, tossing 18 TDs with a puny three picks. Of course, Young might have been saddled with the league's worst receiving corps last season, one led by the underwhelming likes of Justin Gage, Roydell Williams and Bo Scaife. So in the offseason, Tennessee addressed this shortcoming by bringing in... Justin McCareins and Alge Crumpler. Well then, problem solved, he said sarcastically. On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville addressed its own receiver issues by acquiring Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson, but neither is expected to help much in Week 1, as Porter is recovering from hamstring surgery and Williamson suffers from a chronic condition of not being very good. Jacksonville still has Reggie Williams, whose 10 touchdowns last year were more than all the Titans receivers put together, and Matt Jones, who might finally have the head that sits atop his abundantly talented body screwed on straight. But Williams has his own hamstring problem, so Jacksonville may just rush Porter back into the lineup. Stay tuned!

Things get a little more interesting for Tennessee at running back, where they may have a tandem to challenge Jacksonville's two-headed monster of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. LenDale White is no one's idea of an explosive back, but his ability to plow ahead for tough yards is key for a team that wants to grind down its opponents. Rookie Chris Johnson, however, is everyone's idea of an explosive back, and Titans fans are eager to see much more of the eye-opening speed he displayed in the preseason. That pair has some work to do, however, to match the Jags' duo, as Taylor led the AFC in 2007 with a 5.4 yards-per-carry average, while Jones-Drew is averaging 4.9 against Tennessee.

Unfortunately, Jacksonville has more on its mind than this game. Offensive lineman Richard Collier was shot and critically wounded early Tuesday morning, a turn of events that has his team "in shock," according to Taylor, who himself had been charged with disorderly conduct a few days earlier. The Jaguars are going to have to collect themselves and try to focus on playing the Titans, but it won't be easy.

By Desmond Bieler  |  September 4, 2008; 12:00 PM ET  | Category:  Week 1 Previews Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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