A showdown for AFC South rule and a giant step forward en route to the division crown is on hand to commence Week 10.
First place is on the line as Philip Rivers and the Indianapolis Colts (5-3) collide with Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans (6-2) at 8:20 p.m. ET on Thursday Night Football from Nissan Stadium, which airs on NFL Network, FOX and Amazon Prime Video.
With the two-time reigning AFC North-champion Houston Texans (2-6) far back, a new crown is all but assured and Thursday's winner will be the frontrunner as the Colts and Titans clash for the first of two meetings in three weeks.
Here's what to watch for the Colts face the host Titans on Thursday night:
Will Rivers rebound and turn around Colts O?
It's a rather safe prediction that Rivers will make history on Thursday night. Though he is coming off a forgettable showing in the Colts' loss to the Ravens, he drew oh so close to surpassing the legendary Dan Marino (61,361 yards) for fifth place on the career list for passing yards. With just four yards needed for Rivers to assume fifth place, history is very likely in the making. Still, as momentous as that is, in the scope of this season, what's of utmost importance is Rivers' rocky play must be remedied for the Colts to move forward with their aspirations of winning the division and being serious postseason contenders. Indy scored a season-low 10 points against Baltimore and Rivers (227 yards, no TDs, an interception, 62.8 rating) struggled mightily after solid back-to-back showings in Week 6 and 8 wins. Boding well for Rivers will be the return of T.Y. Hilton, who missed the Ravens game with a groin injury, but is set to come back Thursday. Still, arguing Rivers played well is a fruitless endeavor, yet the offense's shortcomings hardly rest squarely upon his right arm. Jonathan Taylor had a huge fumble that was returned for a TD by the Ravens and finished the day with fewer than 30 yards for a second-straight week and did so on a season-low six carries. Taylor or Nyheim Hines or Jordan Wilkins will need to up the production. Despite that, if an offensive turnaround is to be had, Rivers will need to lead the way.
Tannehill's quietly sensational season
Like Rivers, Tannehill is on the heels of a somewhat subpar outing as evidenced by the his 10-of-21 showing against the Bears. The largest differences between he and Rivers, though, is that the Titans are coming of a victory and Tannehill is turning in an all-around outstanding season. With superstars such as Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers commanding the spotlight and the MVP conversation, Tannehill has put forth a quietly sensational season so far. Tannehill's rattled off 19 touchdowns to only three interceptions and certainly showed ample reason that his stunning AP Comeback Player of the Year turn in 2019 wasn't a fluke. Tannehill has quickly become the Titans' unquestioned leader, showing he'll throw it 40-plus times or hand it off every down as long as a win is to be had. He's also found a bona fide No. 1 option in A.J. Brown, who's caught a touchdown in five consecutive tilts. Much like Tannehill, Tennessee is turning in a quietly impressive campaign as its 6-2 start is its best since 2008, but Thursday's first-place bout will be the third over the last four weeks – with previous games against the Steelers and Bears – in which a tenacious defense will await the QB and force him to bring his best.
King Henry vs. No. 3 rushing D
The reigning NFL rushing king and the current AFC frontrunner has a challenge on his hands in the Colts. Last time Derrick Henry face Indy, he posted a 149-yard effort in a Titans win in Week 13 of last season. Alas, the freight train camouflaged as Henry is on a track headed for the third-ranked rushing defense. Historically, Henry hasn't fared all that well against top-five rushing defenses, averaging 48.8 rushing yards over four such games since 2018, per NFL Research. Coming into Thursday, Henry's piled up a league-high 182 carries for an AFC-best 843 yards (second in the NFL behind Dalvin Cook). This is very much an enticing, old school showdown with perhaps the NFL's most feared offensive player strapping up against the league's No. 1-ranked overall defense.
Leonard leading way for a dominant defense
The Colts' top-ranked defense is stacked at just about every level, but it also houses one of the best young linebacking talents in the league in Darius Leonard. Leonard is back healthy and terrifying. Though the Colts lost, Leonard had his working shoes on against the Ravens, tallying a season-high 15 tackles. Despite missing two games this campaign, he leads Indy with 51 tackles. A versatile talent able to cover well and rush the passer just the same, Leonard will have plenty of help from the likes of DeForest Buckner, Denico Autry, Khari Willis and Bobby Okereke, but Leonard vs. Henry is a marquee matchup. And beyond that, Thursday is also a chance to see him shine in prime time. In his third season, Leonard, despite holding claim to an AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honor along with Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods, is still an overlooked standout in the grand scope of NFL fandom and a first-place showdown that promises multiple confrontations with the league's biggest, baddest back is an outstanding opportunity for the LB to introduce himself to larger audience.