After meeting in the playoffs in January, the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals will try to prove themselves as legitimate AFC contenders again when they square off Sunday in Nashville, Tenn.
The Bengals took down the top-seeded Titans 19-16 in last year’s AFC divisional round on their way to reaching the Super Bowl. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill insisted Sunday’s rematch is not about revenge.
“That was last year. Half this team wasn’t even here,” Tannehill said this week. “This is a new team facing another new team. Obviously a game we want to win, but it has nothing to do with last year.”
The Titans (7-3) have won seven of their past eight games and haven’t lost in regulation since Week 2. They’ve been powered by a defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL since Week 3 in scoring (15.4 ppg allowed), rushing yards (60.4) and third-down conversions (30.1 percent).
They’re also 10th in the league with 30 sacks, led by seven from Denico Autry, 6.5 from Jeffery Simmons and 5.5 from Rashad Weaver. Autry is on pace to surpass his career high of nine sacks, set in 2018 and 2021, but he is unlikely to be available in the short term after he suffered a knee injury in last Thursday’s 27-17 win over the Green Bay Packers.
“He don’t get a lot of respect that he deserves and we’re gonna miss him for the time he’s out,” Simmons said. “But like I said, the thing about Tennessee and the thing since I’ve been here, it’s always been a next-man-up mentality. So I’m excited for all those other guys to get more opportunities.”
Simmons himself was limited Wednesday with an ankle injury. But Tennessee still expects to have the defensive tackle who racked up three of the Titans’ nine sacks of Joe Burrow in January’s playoff loss.
“He impacts everything,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “The point of attack in the run game. He affects the passer in the pass game. He’s got all the traits that you want to see in a great defensive tackle.”
The Bengals (6-4) are still struggling to get their offense fully healthy. This should be the week star receiver Ja’Marr Chase returns from a hip injury, but at the same time running back Joe Mixon has entered concussion protocol.
Chase was back at practice Wednesday as a limited participant, and Burrow said the team expects he’ll be ready to go against Tennessee after he missed three games.
Cincinnati, like Tennessee, has rebounded from an 0-2 start to the year to get back in the thick of the playoff hunt. They outlasted the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 37-30 shootout last week, with Burrow throwing for 355 yards and four touchdowns.
Their schedule is only going to get tougher after Tennessee, with dates against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens still to come.
“We know what it’s gonna take down the stretch to get to where we want to get to,” Burrow said. “We have the experience to go and do it. We just got to execute.”
Bengals defensive linemen Trey Hendrickson and Jay Tufele (illness) missed Wednesday’s practice. Halfback Chris Evans (knee), linebacker Joe Machie (knee), safety Dax Hill (shoulder) and defensive tackles DJ Reader (ankle) and Josh Tupou (calf) were limited. Tupou hasn’t played since Week 6.
For the Titans, linebacker Bud Dupree (hip) returned to practice as a full participant. Kicker Randy Bullock (right calf) and cornerback Kristian Fulton (hamstring) sat out Wednesday, while center Ben Jones (concussion) was limited.
Derrick Henry didn’t practice Wednesday for a non-injury-related reason. His 1,010 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns have powered Tennessee’s offense.