This isn’t quite the quarterback matchup anyone envisioned at the beginning of the season.
But two teams very much in playoff hunts in their respective conferences have made do with previous backups.
The Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers look to take the next step when they meet Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C.
The burning question regarding the Panthers (4-3) was quickly put to rest at the beginning of the week when coach Ron Rivera announced that Kyle Allen would remain the starting quarterback.
So this will be something new for Allen, who has never come off an NFL loss as a starter after winning his first five games in such a role.
Tennessee (4-4) has found a bit of magic with a quarterback switch, one that wasn’t connected to an injury. Ryan Tannehill has directed two victories since the benching of Marcus Mariota.
“November is really when the NFL season begins, and we’re in a position to do something with that,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “This is a critical time for us as a football team.”
The Panthers will try to do more with Allen, who has been filling in while Cam Newton deals with an injury. Newton appears closer to returning, but Rivera said the rehabilitation is ongoing.
In last week’s 51-13 loss to the 49ers at San Francisco, Allen seemed more mistake-prone than in previous games.
“Probably the biggest thing is he has got to be patient,” Rivera said. “He’s a guy when he stays within his abilities, he can help us a lot.”
The blowout loss brought comparisons to Carolina’s 52-21 setback last year to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That marked the beginning of a seven-game losing streak.
“I think we have enough experience in that locker room to prevent it,” Rivera said. “How you handle it is what defines you this year.”
The Titans, who have won their past two games, come in riding momentum.
“We have to do everything we can to take the next step,” Vrabel said.
This could be a matchup with significant defense.
Tennessee has been stingy, allowing more than 20 points only in last week’s 27-23 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Titans have picked off eight passes.
Carolina defenders have made 10 interceptions.
Some of the defensive work has overshadowed snags on the Tennessee offense.
“We need to be able to sustain drives throughout the game,” said Tannehill, who has thrown five touchdown passes in two games.
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey has 10 touchdowns this season, the second-most in the NFL. He’s coming off a 117-yard rushing performance at San Francisco.
His 30 career touchdowns make him the first Panthers player to reach that total within his first three seasons.
“They probably have one of the most dynamic running backs in the league from a rushing and receiving standpoint,” Vrabel said.
Tennessee has won six straight games against NFC foes, with Vrabel undefeated in his two seasons in those crossover matchups.
The Panthers haven’t played at home in almost a month (since Oct. 6). Tennessee is the only NFL team that Carolina hasn’t defeated at home, though the Panthers won the most recent meeting in 2015 in Nashville. This marks the Titans’ first trip to Charlotte since 2011.