NASHVILLE (AP) — This is an early AFC showdown. And that’s the beauty of offseason decisions paying off immediately in wins.
The Kansas City Chiefs are riding high with a new coach Andy Reid and new quarterback Alex Smith. One of the NFL’s last undefeated teams, the Chiefs are only the second franchise in league history to start 4-0 after losing at least 14 games the year before. Reid found a locker room filled with players eager to do whatever it took to move past last season’s 2-14 record.
“They didn’t want to dwell on the past,” Reid said. “They were right with me on that. The players said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s move forward.’”
The Titans are an unexpected 3-1 after their own offseason overhaul. They brought in 20 new players and five new coaches, including former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to go with a crop of developing players eager to win after 2012’s woeful 6-10 record.
“We’re going to go out there and prove that we should be one of the top contenders out there,” said defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, looking forward to Sunday and past the single loss to Houston in overtime in Week 2.
The Chiefs are tied with Denver and Peyton Manning atop the AFC West, while the Titans are atop the AFC South with Indianapolis. Both are tied for the NFL’s best turnover margin at plus nine, though the Chiefs had their first turnovers in last week’s 31-7 win over the New York Giants. The Titans have yet to lose a ball and forced four turnovers last week routing the Jets 38-13.
Tennessee has won two straight and hopes to continue that momentum with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, an offseason addition who takes over at quarterback for Jake Locker, who is out with a sprained right hip. A nine-year vet, Fitzpatrick is 4-1 against the Chiefs, but the Titans are the underdogs.
“I think we play better when we go into a game and our backs’ against the wall,” Titans tight end Delanie Walker said.
The Chiefs haven’t won their first five since starting 9-0 in 2003. Humbled by their bad times last season, they refuse to take anything for granted.
“We’re handling it well and hopefully it can continue,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
Here are five things to watch as the Chiefs try to remain perfect against the Titans:
PROTECT THAT BALL: The Titans already have tied the 1995 St. Louis Rams as the only teams in the Super Bowl era not to turn the ball over through the first four games. The Rams’ streak ended in their fifth game. Fitzpatrick said the “whole no turnover thing” is a lot of pressure, but the only people reminding him of that stat are reporters. Titans coach Mike Munchak said the key will be the Harvard quarterback taking care of the ball.
“He’s got to play the game the way he plays it,” Munchak said. “We just want him to be smart with the football and his decision making and not to feel like he’s got to force something because he has a good defense and he has other people around him.”
POINTS AT A PREMIUM: The Chiefs are allowing only 10.3 points a game. That’s the lowest in Kansas City history through the first four games. They also are second in the NFL in sacks per pass play with 18 already.
PROTECT FITZ: As a former offensive line coach himself, Reid said the Titans are loaded with good O-line coaches from Munchak and position coach Bruce Matthews — both Hall of Fame offensive linemen. Reid expects the Titans to be ready for linebackers Justin Houston (7½ sacks) and Tamba Hali (3) and tackle Dontari Poe (3½). The Titans revamped the interior of their offensive line this offseason with left guard Andy Levitre and rookie right guard Chance Warmack the big additions.
TIME ON THEIR SIDE: The Chiefs are second in the NFL holding the ball for 33 minutes, 42 seconds. The Titans, last in the NFL in this stat last season, currently are 12th averaging 31:18.
RUN RUN RUN: Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs has been limited by blisters on his feet. The Titans have leaned heavily on Chris Johnson with Shonn Greene recovering from an injured right knee. Running well will ease the pressure on Fitzpatrick in his first start for Tennessee, and the Chiefs are giving up 117.5 yards rushing per game.