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What to watch for in Titans-Cowboys on 'MNF'

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C-3PO: "Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720-to-1."

HAN SOLO: "Never tell me the odds!"

Sorry, but we're about to do just that.

When the Titans and Cowboys -- a pair of 3-4 operations -- match wits on Monday Night Football, they'll do so knowing that NFL teams tumbling to 3-5 have reached the playoffs a scant 8 percent of the time since 1990.

It's hard to imagine the loser making it to January. Not because of what's happened post-1989, but because another loss only amplifies the inherent flaws of two up-and-down clubs angling to right the ship without spiraling into one of those asteroids and separating into a thousand lost pieces.

Here's what we'll be watching for when it all goes down:

1. Prepare yourself for this uber-zealous Monday Night Football broadcast crew to fawn over the presence of Amari Cooper. Acquired from the Raiders for a 2019 first-round pick, Cooper, in theory, gives the pass-anemic Cowboys what they've been missing all along: a genuine lead wideout.

This gaggle of Dallas pass-catchers enters the game ranked 27th in receptions and receiving yards. That group -- led by slot man Cole Beasley and rookie Michael Gallup -- played better in recent weeks, but Cooper fits the bill as a potential-packed weapon set for a "significant amount" of snaps tonight, per coordinator Scott Linehan, who added: "We're not really easing him in."

Cooper authored back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns to open his career, but struggled mightily in 2017 before completely falling from grace inside a bad Raiders offense this autumn. His production will be watched closely by a fan base that has endured owner Jerry Jones overpaying for talent. Monday night, though, feels like the perfect time for the football gods to set the fantasy establishment on fire with a multiple-score evening for Cooper as Dallas wheels out their new trinket for all to see.

2. The Titans languish in a dark corner. Losers of three straight, Tennessee's offense has gone to sleep, averaging just over 10 points per game over their past three outings and staring down a rugged schedule. After facing Dallas on the road, the Titans host the immaculate Patriots before visiting the surging Colts and Texans. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have flip-flopped wins and losses all campaign, but sit undefeated at home and ride into Monday night with a defense allowing the second fewest points per game league-wide. They're also third in passing and total yardage allowed, but real-estate numbers can almost be ignored in today's NFL. What's more important is that Dallas is allowing the second-fewest big plays.

3. That big-play-stopping defense matches up well against a nearly unwatchable Titans attack that has flatlined under for long stretches with Marcus Mariota at the helm. The second-overall pick of 2015 is throwing the second-fewest yards per game (171.7) in the NFL. His fifth-lowest passer rating sits mired among four rookies and, yup, Jameis Winston, the first-overall pick from that same '15 crop of talent.

With ultra-reliable tight end Delanie Walker out for the year, wideout Corey Davis has served as Mariota's top target, but the second-year receiver has just one 100-yard game while being held under 65 yards in every other affair. His yardage totals over the past three games -- 49, 24 and 10 -- tell the tale of an air "attack" withering away. Revival won't come easy against a Dallas secondary led by dependable cover men Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie. The Cowboys have allowed fewer than 200 total passing yards in four games, which bodes well against a Titans club that has posted totals of 121, 83 and 51 air yards over their past five outings.

4. Word on the street is that Tennessee's bye week signing of fullback Jalston Fowler foreshadows plans to veer run-heavy with Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry. If only life were so simple. With the Titans posing miniscule danger through the air, defenses can stack the box and take their chances. That said, establishing the run would give Tennessee something the club utterly lacks on this side of the ball: any semblance of an identity.

5. The Titans and Cowboys are the only teams in the NFL with a bottom-five offense and top-five scoring defense. The difference for Dallas, though, is the presence of a ground game, with Ezekiel Elliott entering Week 9 with the second most rushing yards per tilt at a respectable 4.7 yards per carry. Expect a ton of Elliott this evening, but also more from quarterback Dak Prescott. The mobile signal-caller has come to life on the ground with a combined 23/149/2 rushing line over the past three weeks. Stopping the run boils down to Titans behemoth Jurrell Casey doing what he does best: dominating games while remaining largely and unjustly invisible to most of the watching public. He's one of the finest players suiting up on Monday night.

6. The Cowboys have a defensive gem of their own in pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence, who will face a Titans line fielding a healthy guard combination in Quinton Spain and Josh Kline. Dallas will go without pass-rusher David Irving, set to miss a month-plus with an ankle injury. We're also monitoring the status of Cowboys Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin, listed as questionable with a knee injury for an offensive line under new leadership after position coach Paul Alexander was fired during the bye week.

7. The Cowboys must handle their business tonight for any shot at the NFC East. Yes, they'd still be mathematically viable with a loss, but heading into thorny tilts with the Eagles, Falcons, Redskins, Saints and Philly again after tonight. This is a mid-tier team in a loaded conference, but they remain in play for the East if Cooper finds his groove and this defense continues to shine.

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