With three weeks left in the NFL season, it came to this for the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers: The Titans (9-5) trying to shake the tail (8-6 Colts) in the AFC, while in the NFC, 49ers be the tail. Tennessee’s grip on South Asia was shrinking, and now its team had a perilous one-game lead over Indianapolis. It’s more like a two-game lead – the Titans hold a tiebreak with two head-to-head wins over Indianapolis – but that can’t be too reassuring for the Titans, who have lost three of their last four. Meanwhile, the 8-6 record is only good for third place in the NFC West for the 49ers. In the absence of a breakdown by both the Cardinals and the Rams, the 49ers won’t win the division, but they are in a strong position as they are currently seeded #6.
Here are four things to watch when the Titans host the 49ers:
- Ryan Tanehill’s play is skewed in the wrong direction. He’s thrown six interceptions and only twice to go down a 1-3 slip for the Titans over the past month. It was short to get weapons due to injuries, but at this point, the Giants need to play quarterback to level up the available personnel. This has not happened recently. The good news is that the wide receiver AJ Brown will likely enter the picture again on Thursday, having been designated to return from the IR. But no matter who’s in the lineup, Tannehill’s effectiveness has to reach a higher level before the Giants fade further — Derek Henry isn’t walking through that door anytime soon.
- Nick Bosa is on fire. Can the Titans contain the passing rush of the 49ers star? The last thing Tanehill needs is to have Bossa in his face all night, but his playing trends and passing protection in Tennessee suggest that is exactly what will happen. Bossa has run at least six games in a row, short of the club record held by Aldon Smith (2012). His 15 sacks tied him to a third place in the NFL, while his 18 tackles led him to a loss in the league. He scored 57 pressings, which ranked fourth in the NFL and first in the NFC. Having an ACL surgery that ended his 2020 season after just two games, he was even more turbulent than he had been as the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019.
- Zach Cunningham is well settled in Tennessee. A team can ask for no more exemption wire than to grab the starter from the scrap heap of another team who makes his debut for his new team as the main defender. That’s what Cunningham did for the Titans last week with six stops, four singles, against the Steelers. NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger love what he saw From the quarterback, who has the ability to revitalize the Titans defense that is already number two in the NFL against running. With another week to rest with his new role and teammates, he could be a problem in the 49ers attack.
- Nothing special makes a difference in San Francisco. Over the last four games, the 49-player Special Teams units have: 2) allowed kick-backs for 99 yards to land; 3) A kick return of 23 yards is allowed; and 4) missed two field goals within 50 yards, plus an extra point. Brandon Ayuk’s kick back wasn’t much to talk about either. Suffice it to say, the whole thing was a major inconvenience to Special Teams coach Richard Hightower. There’s a lot to clean up here, not just one particular ST unit, and if the Niners reach the playoffs without solving those issues, the post-season price tag could be a pain.