No one would argue that the Tennessee Titans are one of the best teams in football at 3-3, but the team has been surprisingly good at times this season, with wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers and New York Jets, and a narrow enough loss on the road to the Seattle Seahawks last week to inspire some confidence among the fanbase. With the Houston Texans down and the Indianapolis Colts just one game ahead at 4-2, the Titans, through six games, have a very real chance of winning the division.
Enter: The San Francisco 49ers, a team projected to be one of the best in the league going into the season. They got off to a slow start but are beginning to feel their oats. If the Titans can somehow pull off the upset, it would be a massive coup and confidence boost to a young, opportunistic team. The 49ers are simply looking to assert that they are, in fact, the best team in the NFL.
Meet the Titans
The Titans are missing Jake Locker. It's perhaps no surprise that the team is 0-2 since he went down with a hip injury in Week 4. Granted, Ryan Fitzpatrick has gone up against two of the league's better defenses in the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seahawks, but just one touchdown pass to four interceptions won't cut it if the Titans have real playoff aspirations. Locker will be missing yet again, putting hopes of an upset in the hands of an opportunistic defense.
The Titans are second in the NFL (behind only Kansas City) with a plus-8 turnover differential on the season. A defense that seemingly lacked big names heading into the season has become one of the league's best under Jerry Gray and Gregg Williams. The team has forced 13 turnovers, and several players have emerged as budding stars, notably cornerback Alterraun Verner, who has four interceptions already this season.
Meet the 49ers
After suffering back-to-back losses in Weeks 2 and 3, the 49ers have reeled off three straight double-digit wins. Offensively, the running game has been outstanding. Frank Gore averaged 112 yards rushing per game over the stretch, and 49ers averaged 182 yards as a team. The rushing attack masked uneven play by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, though he played well in the win against the Arizona Cardinals last week, going 16-for-29 passing for 252 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The 49ers' defense has also forced 13 turnovers on the season, and the unit's pass- and run-stopping capabilities both best the Titans on a per-attempt basis. The 49ers' paltry plus-2 turnover differential highlights how poorly the offense has taken care of the ball, however. Kaepernick has thrown five interceptions and lost four fumbles. If he is careless yet again, the Titans should have a puncher's chance of winning.
Local Takes: Titans
- Ryan Fitzpatrick could get better. Most, not all, of Fitzpatrick's poor plays were a result of bad throws not bad decisions. He looks more and more comfortable with what's happening on the field and hopefully is just getting the last of the rust off. He's making the right reads and throwing to the right receivers, it's just that the throws themselves are bad. This is more being extremely hopeful than finding a silver lining, but hey, a man has to dream.
Local Takes: 49ers
But this is still a serious point. The 49ers defense has forced eight turnovers the last two weeks, and much like we saw in 2011, it is key to setting up the offense in prime field position. The 49ers have not exactly impressed in the giveaway department. They are tied for eighth in the NFL in terms of most giveaways. They are currently second in the NFC in fumbles lost, and sixth in interceptions. They've cleaned it up a bit the last two weeks, but that will be a key this weekend. It's a key every weekend, but even more so given the Titans ability to force turnovers.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Harbaugh: Titans are probably the best team 49ers have seen at punching, clubbing the ball out, forcing turnovers— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) October 16, 2013
@jwyattsports -- Titans beat writer
Fitzpatrick feels like he has let his teammates down the last few weeks by not playing better #Titans— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) October 16, 2013
@mattbarrows -- 49ers beat writer
Colin Kaepernick says foot injury that has landed him on the injury report is a hang nail in his pinky toe. Couldn't tell if he was joking.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) October 16, 2013
It helps that the Titans are playing at home, but the team's success this season has been too reliant on turnovers. The 49ers like to take the ball away just as much as they like to give it, and Fitzpatrick hasn't been as good a caretaker of the ball as Locker was. The 49ers will win on the road, and cover.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Titans 17
The 49ers are favored from 4-5 points, depending on which sports book you consult over at OddsShark.com.