By Andrew Kahn-
(CBS Local) If you’re wondering how Tennessee and Jacksonville, with their combined four wins, could be playing on a Thursday night at this point in the season, it’s because every NFL team is guaranteed at least one primetime game and the Thursday match-ups are decided before the season. Casual fans—if there is such a thing in the NFL—may not be intrigued, but others will want to check in on the development of Jacksonville’s rookie quarterback Blake Bortles and this young Jaguars offense. Other than that, it’s a fight for draft position, as these teams’ 2-12 record ties them for worst in the NFL with Oakland and Tampa Bay. These teams have a lot of similarities right now, and neither should be proud of that.
When Tennessee has the ball:
At one point it looked like this was going to be a battle of rookie quarterbacks, as Zach Mettenberger started six straight games for Tennessee in the second half of the season. But he injured his shoulder, forcing the Titans to once again start Jake Locker last week. He, too, injured his shoulder in what was perhaps his last game with the franchise. And so Tennessee will be starting veteran Charlie Whitehurst on Thursday. It’s not how the Titans wanted to wrap up this season, as they were hoping to have a clearer picture of their quarterback situation for the future.
Tennessee has not been terrible at moving the ball, but turnovers and red zone offense have been issues. The Titans also allow a lot of sacks, and Jacksonville has an impressive 38 sacks on the season. Whitehurst isn’t going to do anything exceptional, so he needs protection and help from his run game, which has not cracked 100 yards since Week 5.
When Jacksonville has the ball:
Jacksonville’s offense shares many of the same problems. But there is no quarterback uncertainty here. Bortles made his debut in the second half of Week 3 and has taken every snap since. For the third overall pick, the numbers are not good: 10 touchdowns against 17 interceptions (the worst ratio in the league) and a passer rating of 70.6, better than only Geno Smith. But there are signs he is progressing. Johnathan Joseph, a veteran cornerback for the Texans, who faced Bortles two weeks ago, told CBS Houston, “I like where he’s at mentally and just as far as being comfortable back there.” Joseph was impressed with Bortles’ ability to fit the ball into tight windows and lack of panic in the pocket. Bortles sprained his foot on Sunday but is expected to play against Tennessee.
Jacksonville has the NFL’s lowest scoring offense (15.1 points per game), but it’s not all on the quarterback. The Jaguars have two rookie starters on the offensive line, and their two leading receivers are first-year players: Allen Hurns and the injured Allen Robinson. Stepping in for Robinson is another rookie, Marqise Lee. The Tennessee defense is vulnerable, but Jacksonville won’t resemble anything close to explosive this season.
Prediction: Jacksonville 20, Tennessee 17
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal.