The Kansas City Chiefs look to hold onto their one game lead in the AFC West when they take on the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. A victory puts even more pressure on the San Diego Chargers later in the day as they take on the Bengals in Cincinnati.
Beating the Titans isn’t anything new to the Chiefs. They may have dropped their last meeting two meetings, but Kansas City’s 27 all-time wins against Tennessee are the most against any non-division opponent (they have beaten the Seahawks more, but they played in the AFC West for over two decades).
Both teams are trying to carry the momentum over from last week’s victories, the Chiefs over the Rams 27-13 and the Titans over the Texans 31-17.
Here are the three players from each team that you will need to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Jamaal Charles
Todd Haley will most likely still start Thomas Jones and let him get the early carries as he has preferred to do, but after that it is time to fully unleash Jamaal Charles. It’s not about helping Charles win the rushing title or getting your money’s worth after signing him to an extension. Very simply it’s about needing to win and the Chiefs offense has the best chance when the ball is in Charles’ hands.
The league’s leading rusher has averaged just 14.5 carries per game, a number that should at least be doubled Sunday against the Titans. With that amount of carries, even if Charles averages a yard less than his season average he would put up over 150 yards.
There’s no better way to take advantage of the Titans lack of experience playing in cold weather than pounding them on the ground play after play. The only way you will keep moving the sticks on the ground is on the back of Charles.
Defense: Brandon Flowers
Just how healthy is Flowers? He has looked good fighting through a hamstring injury and isn’t anywhere near the injury report, but will get a great test Sunday against the Titans.
Chris Johnson gets the attention — and rightfully so — but that focus should put the Chiefs corners on an island most of the day. That is music to Tennessee Titans WR Kenny Britt’s ears now that he is recovered from his own hamstring injury. Kansas City’s defense doesn’t usually assign a defender to a specific player which means those two won’t always match up.
All that will be waiting for Flowers when he isn’t covering Britt is Nate Washington who has six touchdowns and three catches for over 50 yards this season.
Special Teams: Dexter McCluster
The Chiefs have struggled on returns this season since McCluster’s smashing debut against the Chargers, but over the last few weeks have been getting closer to springing a big return.
Last week against St. Louis, McCluster got the nod on all kick returns over fellow rookie Javier Arenas and three of the eight punt returns. As his ankle gets closer to 100%, his cuts will get crisper and the Chiefs will finally bring another kick back for a touchdown.
Offense: Kenny Britt
As we’ve spent a lot of time talking about, Chris Johnson is the star of the Titans offense. He will be looking to repeat his last performance in Kansas City of 168 yards on 18 carries including a 66-yard touchdown. Britt, however, is a playmaker in his own right and will get to be one-on-one, unlike Johnson who will have to deal with 8 men in the box all game.
After missing four games with a hamstring injury, Britt is back and seemingly better than ever. Last week against the Texans Britt put up 128 yards on just six receptions. In fact, the Titans are 6-4 with Britt in the lineup compared to 0-4 without him.
While you can’t let Johnson run wild, it’s just as important to make sure Britt doesn’t add to his season total of seven touchdowns.
Defense: Jason Babin
Ah, the one that got away.
Okay, maybe it’s a bit much to pine over a player that only had 2.5 sacks during his short stay in Kansas City but it is awfully easy to imagine how his pass rushing skills would look opposite Tamba Hali. Remember, his 2.5 sacks were during the Chiefs infamous 10 sack season and he registered those while only playing in seven games.
This season Babin has really come into his own as a featured pass rusher, leading the Titans with 12 sacks. Last week against the Texans he had a complete game with six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. If the Chiefs are hoping the keep Matt Cassel upright, they will need to find a way to keep Babin out of the backfield.
Special Teams: Marc Mariani
Devin Hester, Leon Washington, Dexter McCluster… Marc Mariani? Those are the players with the best punt return averages in the NFL this season (min. 10 returns). For all the talk about the Chiefs dynamic rookie returners, Mariani is the best of the bunch in the league.
The 7th round draft pick is poised to lay claim to at least one Titans record on Sunday. He is just five yards shy of breaking the franchise record for kickoff-return yardage and 160 yards short of the combined punt and kickoff-return record.