AFC preview

January 19, 2003|By Jamison Hensley

Today's title game

Tennessee (12-5) at Oakland (12-5)

Time: 6:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9.

Line: Raiders by 8.

Titans offense vs. Raiders defense: Tennessee's attack revolves around banged-up quarterback Steve McNair. Despite four injuries, he will be the key because of his ability to create big plays, shaking off pass rushers to buy more time in the pocket and running to keep drives alive when everything breaks down. The Raiders handled McNair in Week 4, picking him off four times and limiting him to one rush for 6 yards. Look for cornerback Charles Woodson to shadow receiver Derrick Mason, as Oakland prefers to play man coverage. With the Raiders likely blanketing tight end Frank Wycheck, the Titans need little-known receivers like Drew Bennett and Justin McCareins to step up for a second straight week.

Raiders offense vs. Titans defense: The Raiders present a more multidimensional offense, with quarterback Rich Gannon, receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown and running back Charlie Garner. The Titans are second against the run, but Oakland prefers to throw, anyway. It will be interesting to see whether Tennessee - which is known for a high-risk defense and putting pressure on its secondary - deviates from its strategy. If the Titans plan to pressure Gannon, they'll have their best chance to do so up the middle. Oakland is too strong on the edges, and, if pressure comes from the outside, Gannon simply steps up and tosses the ball to his veteran receivers who are smart enough to cut off their routes. With Titans cornerback Andre Dyson hurt, the Raiders will look to pick on backup Dainon Sidney.

Special teams: Oakland blasted Tennessee in the teams' first meeting this season on the strength of back-to-back punt returns for touchdowns. But the Raiders' top two returners from that game are gone. Now the return game is even with the Titans' Derrick Mason and the Raiders' Darrien Gordon. The kicking game has also been equally inconsistent for both teams. Joe Nedney kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime for Tennessee last week, but he also missed one that could have ended the game in regulation. Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski has one of the strongest legs in the league, but inaccuracy has always been a problem.

Coaches: Both coaches did an admirable job in guiding their teams to the championship game despite four-game losing streaks earlier in the season. All the pressure is on first-year coach Bill Callahan because the Raiders are playing at home and facing a team they routed by 27 points three months ago. He also knows that this could be this team's last shot for a few years because of salary-cap problems. Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher has directed his team back to the championship game for the second time in four seasons. But this coaching performance might have been his finest because of all the injuries and a 1-4 start.

Titans' best chance to win: Pressure Gannon. Playing with one starting cornerback, the Titans can't afford to allow Gannon to sit in the pocket and pick their secondary apart. Gannon had his way with Tennessee in the last meeting, completing 29 of 39 passes for 381 yards. But getting to Gannon is easier said than done since the Titans only got to Gannon twice on Sept. 29.

Raiders' best chance to win: Avoid turnovers. The Raiders have a considerable advantage over the Titans unless they give them chances to tilt the edge back. That's why Oakland needs to be conscious of protecting the ball and avoid giving Tennessee easy scoring opportunities. The Raiders won all but one game in which they either broke even or forced more turnovers than they committed.

Injuries: Besides defensive end Trace Armstrong (out), tight end Roland Williams (doubtful) and center Barret Robbins (questionable), Oakland is extremely healthy. Tennessee, however, has several injuries. McNair (thumb) missed most of this past week's workouts - which has been the routine for most of the season - and is expected to start. But defensive end Jevon Kearse (foot) and Dyson (shoulder) will likely be limited. Left guard Zach Piller (calf) and running back Eddie George (concussion) are also recovering from injuries, but both are expected to start.

Prediction: The only factor more imposing than the Black Hole is the Raiders' offense. Oakland has too many weapons for Tennessee's one-man attack - as in McNair - to keep up. The Raiders roll onto San Diego with a 31-10 rout.

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