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5 questions with Music City Miracles: Are the Titans a playoff contender?

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

We have an AFC South matchup on Thursday Night Football tonight between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans! While the Jags don’t have a ton to play for at this point in the season, the squad will be motivated to try to keep the Titans out of the playoff race.

To gain more insights into the Titans, I spoke with head writer Terry Lambert of Music City Miracles — SB Nation’s leading source for all things Tennessee Titans. He provided great analysis into the matchup and the team. Let’s check it out.

1. What is the general consensus about Marcus Mariota amongst Titans fans? The team picked up his fifth year option for 2019, but is he the long term answer and do you expect him to receive a big extension and payday from the Titans soon?

Terry: That’s a really complicated decision for Jon Robinson that I’m glad I don’t have to make. Personally, I absolutely believe Mariota has the tools to be the franchise guy here for a long time. I feel like he’s gotten a raw deal personnel wise and coaching wise. He’s already been through (Ken) Whisenhunt, (Mike) Mularkey and is now on to (Mike) Vrabel. That’s three totally new offenses to learn too. Throw in the fact that he’s got virtually nothing consistent to work with at receiver this year outside of Corey Davis, along with an offensive line that has completely fallen apart -- it’s just a bit of a mess right now and quite honestly it’s made it tough to evaluate him as a quarterback at times.

The only thing that worries me about Marcus long-term is injuries. He always seems to be dinged up in some way. Part of that is bad offensive line play, part of it has been awful luck. As big of a believer in Marcus as I am, it would be tough to commit 25 million-plus per year to a guy who has struggled to stay on the field. Ultimately, I think he gets the big deal, but I don’t think anyone is super comfortable about it.

2. The last couple of games between the Jaguars and Titans have been low-scoring defensive battles, and last week against the Colts, the Jacksonville defense finally returned to its dominate form. Are you expecting more of the same on Thursday night? Why or why not?

Terry: I’m expecting a low scoring rock fight that we have to apologize for to the national audience. We’re just a couple weeks removed from that Rams-Chiefs game which went over 100 points. This one will do really well to break 30. The Titans defense was really good to start the year, but you’ve seen them start to fall off a bit over the last few weeks. They held the Patriots to ten points, then got smoked by the Colts and Texans.

The Jaguars are a different story offensively, obviously. I’m thinking both sides struggle to move the ball for most of the night. First to 13 points might just be your winner.

3. The Titans enter the contest at 6-6, three games behind the division-leading Houston Texans, and though the records are identical, technically slightly behind the Indianapolis Colts after losing the first head-to-head matchup, but certainly in the Wild Card hunt. Do you expect to see the Titans back in the postseason? Why or why not?

Terry: I don’t. This team is just too inconsistent. They should have lost to the Jets last week (down 16-0 in the second quarter), but Josh McCown couldn’t find the end zone and kept the Titans in the game late. They’re awful in pass protection and don’t have a consistent rushing attack. The defense, which carried the team to start the season, has let up over the past few weeks, especially up front against the run.

Making the playoffs would likely mean winning out, which I just can’t see happening. That would mean having to beat Andrew Luck, which the Titans have somehow never accomplished. It’s just hard to trust them to rip off three in a row against Jacksonville, New York and Washington, then beat Indy at home in addition to that.

4. How do you think playing off of a short week affects either team? Which team would you give the advantage to, if at all?

Terry: I think you’d have to give a small bump to the Titans, simply because they’re playing at home. Outside of that, I’m not sure it has a real big impact on the outcome.

5. How do you see an inexperienced Cody Kessler, who has trouble pushing the ball downfield, faring against Tennessee’s defense that ranks No. 5 against the pass? Leonard Fournette is back to take some pressure off of him, but it should be a concern for the Jags, especially given the depleted offensive line.

Terry: The good news for Kessler is that the Titans have virtually no pass rush these days, at least on the edge. Dean Pees will dial it up through the middle though, which has been fairly successful this season. Tennessee is beatable down the field, as several teams have proven this year. Malcolm Butler started the year out in a slump, but quietly seems to be coming out of it. Now it’s Adoree’ Jackson who has had a rough couple of weeks.

Like I said above though, the Titans have struggled in the trenches over the last two weeks. They just don’t have that difference maker up front to pair with Jurrell Casey. For that reason, I’m a little worried about Fournette getting it going on the ground.

Bonus: Score prediction?

I really don’t feel strongly about this one, but I do think the Titans have more upside offensively. You never know what kind of effort you’re going to get out of this team, so literally no result would surprise me.

If I have to pick, I’ll go 16-13 Titans.

Thank you to Terry for providing his thoughts on tonight’s game. You can find him on Twitter, and you can follow Music City Miracles to keep up with the rival Titans as well.

For more, check out my crossover piece on Music City Miracles.