by special contributor John Glennon
NASHVILLE, Tenn. One week after knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions, the Titans find themselves with another big challenge on Sunday in the form of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs are coming off an emotional victory over Oakland, while the Titans are looking to put together their first three-game winning streak since early in the 2011 season.
Here are five key factors leading up to the contest:
CASEY'S COMEBACK? – If defensive end Jurrell Casey has anything to say about it, he'll be back in the Titans lineup against Kansas City after missing last week's game with a foot injury. Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Friday that Casey will be listed as questionable following a limited practice. He'll be evaluated again on Saturday.
But Casey said he will “for sure” play against Kansas City.
“I'm feeling 10 times better than what it was last week,” Casey said. “I think that (week off) was definitely what I needed and I'm ready to get going, especially with this (game) coming up. It's going to be huge and I'm getting ready to give the push we're looking for.”
Casey, defensive end Karl Klug (Achilles) and linebacker David Bass (groin) are all listed as questionable while linebacker Sean Spence (ankle) has been ruled out.
BABY, IT'S COLD – As of Friday morning, the forecast high for kick-off in Kansas City is 3 degrees, with the temperature on its way up to a balmy 8 degrees. If that forecast holds true, it would mark the coldest kick-off temperature in Titans' history – icier even than the 4 degrees at kick-off for the Titans playoff game at New England in January of 2004. Even if there's a warming shift in the next couple of days, this contest looks certain to be one of the four coldest kick-off temperatures in Oilers/Titans history.
“Everybody's talking about this being the coldest game they've played in, but this is going to be the coldest place I've ever been in,” Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright said. “I've never been nowhere this cold … I'm from a country town in Texas and it doesn't get this cold.”
Titans center Ben Jones, an Alabama native, said he doesn't think the cold will make much of an impact.
“It's actually fine because the benches are heated,” Jones said. “The heaters are on. So you actually get hot on the sidelines. And once you're playing it's fine. The worst part is just warming up and walking out before the game.”
TURNOVER TEST – The Titans haven't turned the ball over once in their last four games, and if they extend that streak by one game on Sunday, they'll set a franchise record. Tennessee has won the turnover battle in those last four games and is a plus-eight during that stretch.
The Chiefs, however, will put the Titans to the test in the turnover department. Kansas City is tied for the NFL lead with 25 turnovers and is tied for fifth in the league with 14 interceptions. Cornerback Marcus Peters has five of those picks.
“They're where they're supposed to be,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said of the Chiefs' defense. “They do their job. They swarm to the ball and have a lot of guys making tackles. They're very disciplined, very well-coached and opportunistic.”
The Titans' defense forced its firsts two fumbles of the season last week against Denver, a trend Mularkey hopes will continue.
“Hopefully it comes in bunches,” Mularkey said. “We got a good start last week. It made a difference in the outcome of a game. It made the difference.”
DESTINY'S DARLINGS? – It's been a long time since the Titans could really get excited about playing football in mid-December.
But with three weeks left in the season, the Titans (7-6) have a share of first place in the AFC South, the first time that's happened (at this time of year) since 2008.
If the Titans can manage to win their three remaining contests – at Kansas City, at Jacksonville and home against Houston – Tennessee would win the AFC South for the first time since 2008. In other words, the Titans hold their playoff destiny in their own hands at this point.
“Win out – that's the only way you can do it,” Casey said. “You win out and leave it in your hands. You don't worry about what else is going on. When you take a loss, then you have to play the what-if game. Let's just make sure we win out and let everything else play itself out.”
WHICH TIGHT END IS TOPS? – This game will mark a showdown of two of the most explosive tight ends in the NFL.
The Titans' Delanie Walker comes into the contest with eight catches of at least 25 yards this season, second among NFL tight ends. Kansas City's Travis Kelce has six catches of at least 25 yards, which is tied for fifth in the league.
Kelce has been the hotter of the two tight ends over the past few weeks.
Walker has been held to 50 receiving yards or fewer in his last three games, while Kelce has been spectacular during the past month – totaling 28 receptions and going over 100 receiving yards in four straight weeks.