Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky and Tim Graham
In advance of the New York Jets vs. Tennessee Titans on Sunday in Nashville, AFC East blogger Tim Graham and AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky debate what this November showdown means. The Jets could make a statement by ruining the Titans' hopes of a 16-0 regular season. Graham and Kuharsky debate other factors that should be considered.
Which graybeard quarterback will carry the day?
Paul Kuharsky: Well, Timothy, it's hard to argue against Brett Favre's contagious enthusiasm, but Kerry Collins is asked to provide something entirely different for the Titans. He's calm and cool, which fits a Jeff Fisher team perfectly. Odds are he throws for under 200 yards. Odds also are he doesn't get picked off or make a big mistake that puts his defense in a tough spot.
Tim Graham: I hear you loud and clear, Brocephus. But the Jets seem to have located their offensive happy place with Favre. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has reached a comfort level in calling plays for the type of quarterback the Jets weren't used to. Favre appears to be settling into his role -- somewhere between swashbuckler and game manager. I like to call him a swashmangler.
PK: Very wordsmithy of you. I know Farve's enjoyed joining a team that upgraded the offensive line before he arrived. One key to the Titans' success has been that they consistently get pass pressure from their front four. Kyle Vanden Bosch expects to be back from a groin injury that's pretty much cost him five weeks. Side-by-side with Albert Haynesworth, they'll look to overpower and outwork the left side of the Jets' line.
TG: The Jets' offensive line has been sensational. Alan Faneca has performed as advertised. Nick Mangold is turning into an elite center. But the New England Patriots, without Adalius Thomas and Ty Warren, got to Favre three times last week. Favre went down Strahan-style.
How will the Titans' running game fare against the Jets' 3-4 defense?
TG: The element of Sunday's game I'm most fascinated to see unfold is how New York's run defense handles Tennessee's running backs. Two of my favorite players to watch this year have been Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins and Titans rookie Chris Johnson. The Jets have the fourth-ranked defense against the run. The Patriots didn't even bother last week, choosing to let Matt Cassel throw 50 times. The Jets' front seven are scary.
PK: Collins threw it 41 times in Chicago, but the Titans will be determined to hand the ball off. Still, the Titans likely will continue to look to get Johnson additional touches in the passing game, trying to set him free in space against favorable matchups. I certainly wouldn't be looking to get him up the middle against Jenkins. If offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger sees the Jets selling out to reduce the risk of big-plays by Johnson, then he'll give somebody else like Bo Scaife, Justin Gage or LenDale White more chances.
TG: I wonder how much of this game will hinge on Collins' arm. The Jets have a couple of stars in their secondary. Cornerback Darrelle Revis is one of the NFL's best, and safety Kerry Rhodes is Pro Bowl-caliber. But they were concerned enough with rookie cornerback Dwight Lowery's shaky play that they signed Ty Law, who hadn't played in 11 months.
PK: The Titans will be content to dink and dunk against that crew if that's what they have to do. Patience won't be a problem. And I suspect they'll like their chances of getting Favre to try to force a couple against their own group of rising DBs who are establishing names for themselves. Cortland Finnegan, Michael Griffin and Chris Hope each rank at the top of the AFC with four picks. If they can get one or two here, I like the Titans' chances. If they can't, this could be loss No. 1.
Which team has more to prove?
PK: It takes a 10-0 start and Favre coming to town with the hot Jets for Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to call a game for CBS in Nashville for the first time. The Titans love to cast themselves as the under-the-radar underdogs. They know they'll be drawing a lot of eyeballs Sunday and that
if they lose, there will be people who say the Titans weren't worthy the hype.
TG: One of the more nauseating sports phenomena is when teams try to underdog each other. Every team wants to enter a game feeling as though they're not being taken seriously. But the Jets feel that way, Paul. I mean, they were so emotional last week they actually were shedding tears before and after beating the Patriots. The Jets come into Sunday's game with a chip on their shoulder even though they're from the nation's biggest media market. Don't forget, the reason they went out and made all these splashy offseason moves was because they were sick of being in the New York Giants' shadow.
PK: The Titans would take a loss to this New York team if they could trade it for a Super Bowl matchup against the other New York team. I'm with you on the artificial underdog and faux disrespect stuff. Griffin played good defense against the Jaguars, then got all twisted up in the postgame locker room. He said people get tired of teams or athletes who win all the time, that they are rooting against the Titans just like they rooted against Michael Phelps. Yeah, nobody wanted to see that guy with all those gold medals around his neck.
TG: If Mercury Morris is OK with the notion you might go undefeated, then you're not exactly Public Enemy No. 1. In my travels around the AFC East, I haven't heard any negative talk about those dastardly Titans. I think the Patriots still lead the conference in haters. But if that's how the Titans are getting themselves jacked up, so be it. As Crash Davis once scolded Annie Savoy: "A player on a streak has to respect the streak." Whatever the Titans are doing to get mentally prepared, it is working.
PK: Even the truest Titans fan has to admit there would be at least one upside to a loss: Morris would disappear for another year.