Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season has brought a host of surprises, from the Washington Football Team that upset the Philadelphia Eagles to the Jacksonville Jaguars that stunned the Indianapolis Colts. But the opening week’s final game seemed to be a fairly even matchup for a long time, with both the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans vying for AFC relevance on Monday night.
Denver flashed potential under coach Vic Fangio with a 7-9 finish in 2019, but even in a tough division with reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, there’s optimism surrounding sophomore quarterback Drew Lock – who finished strong as a rookie and now has additional weapons in its supporting cast. The Titans, meanwhile, were the unofficial upset darling of the 2019 NFL, coming within one Super Bowl win after a hot stretch from Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and a snappy defense.
Who will prevail on Monday evening? Let’s break things down.
How to watch
Date:Monday September 14 |Time:10:20 p.m. ET
Place:Empower Field at Mile High (Denver, Colorado)
TV: ESPN |Flow:fuboTV(Try for free)
To follow:CBS Sports app
When the Broncos have the ball
The undisputed top priority is up front, where Denver has to keep Lock upright. Because for all the lovely new No. 5 wide toys – namely rookie wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler – there are serious concerns in the trenches, starting with Garett Bolles’ left armor. The veteran wasn’t a consistent liability, but there’s a reason Denver was scouting for upgrades off-season, and now Bolles will be charged with blocking an equipped Jadeveon Clowney, who would single-handedly play Pat Shurmur’s game plan. can devastate.
If the Broncos can prevent an Eagles-level meltdown ahead of time, the next problem revolves around the availability of No. 1 Courtland Sutton, who has made a match decision with an AC joint sprain. Assuming Sutton isn’t there, or at least 100 percent, Denver will probably be best suited to rely on the ground game, plus short- and medium-range passes, outside the gate.
It’s a tough place. Since Lock can thrive on expanding / creating big plays, and Hamler might give him fast speed, but if Denver is concerned about slow-developing plays behind that O-line, the safest bet (especially for a conservative play- caller like Shurmur) will likely feed Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay and hope they can create in the open space. Tight Noah Fant, an over-the-middle target, would also play a significant role in that kind of run-to-set-up-the-pass approach.
All in all, the Broncos have the opportunity to score points, but Monday night just doesn’t feel like the perfect stage for a revolver debut. From the pre-questions (exacerbated by the Seven of the Titans) to the injuries at WR, they have to take it almost slowly and methodically. If they do that and implement it, they can win.
When the Titans have the ball
The recipe is simple: keep doing what has worked since Tannehill took over at QB. That may sound too simple, but when you look at the staff for both Tennessee and Denver, it makes sense in the world. Enter Derrick Henry. Fire fast attacks on AJ Brown. Wear the other side down. This game will almost certainly be a slow slugging match rather than a high flying back and forth, which is exactly the kind of game Tennessee was built for, complete with a hard coach in Mike Vrabel.
Denver’s run defense had varying levels of success in 2019 and now praises ex-Titans starter Jurrell Casey up front, but the real key to Tennessee will be silencing Bradley Chubb, who will not only be tasked with proving he’s up to speed ACL recovery but made up for the absence of fellow pass rusher Von Miller. Without former All-Pro right-wing tackle Jack Conklin for the first time in half a decade, the Titans could be forced to turn extra attention to Chubb’s side, but a good dose of power running Henry can help too.
It’s also important that Tannehill picks his spots when asked to throw. The QB was surprisingly ready for Tennessee when he replaced Marcus Mariota last year, throwing 22 touchdowns against just six interceptions with a completion rate of over 70, but Denver has underestimated secondary pieces in new corner AJ Bouye and roving safety Justin Simmons. Again, that’s why the Titans would be best served by sticking to their script: Bruising Runs from Henry, followed by quick targets for guys like Brown, Adam Humphries, and up-and-coming TE Jonnu Smith.
The Titans have the advantage in the trenches and in the injury department, so it’s really just up to them not to give Denver any extra chances, either through turnover or mental errors.
Prediction: Titans 24, Broncos 21
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