The Tennessee Titans have had their share of rivals since moving to Nashville. Most of them reside in the AFC South.
But no rival brings out the emotions of the franchise and fan base like the Baltimore Ravens, who are coming to town this week for a late Sunday afternoon tilt.
The Ravens rivalry takes precedence over all others for three reasons…
One, the teams are identical twins in terms of philosophy and physicality. Two, the teams have been evenly matched from a talent perspective….evidenced by the 11-11 all-time record in this series and seven-game streak of alternating victories dating back to 2005.
Third, and most importantly, the stakes are usually high when these two square off.
And that will be no different Sunday.
The rivalry was forged when the Ravens handed the Titans their first loss at home on November 12, 2000, ending Tennessee’s 18 month undefeated streak at LP field. The Ravens returned a few months later to knock off the number 1 seed Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs….and went on to capture their first Super Bowl.
The same thing happened again in 2008 when the Ravens came to Tennessee (who had the best record in the league) and ended their season in excruciating fashion during that year’s divisional round.
Tennessee got their jab in when they went to Baltimore and defeated the heavily favored Ravens in the wild card round of the 2003 season.
The lasting image of that contest was Eddie George, separated shoulder and all, trucking Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis….ending years of frustration after several losses in a row to him and his vaunted defense.
The teams’ 2006 match up was high-stakes for another reason. Titans legend Steve McNair was unceremoniously let go after the 2005 season after being locked out of his own facility prior to his release.
He signed with Baltimore that offseason and returned to Nashville to face his protegé, Vince Young, who was drafted 3rd overall that spring to replace him.
Steve lit up Tennessee with a vintage performance and the Ravens escaped with a 27-26 victory in a game as thrilling as the score suggests.
In 2014 the Ravens overcame an early deficit to knock off a horrid Titans team late in the season. And while the outcome seemed irrelevant at the time, it dropped Tennessee out of a log jam for the worst record in the league. The Titans earned the second overall pick by one game, and selected Marcus Mariota with that pick the following spring.
Last season the teams met in Nashville in early November, and the Titans pulled out a close 23-20 victory behind Kevin Byard’s two interception performance. By season’s end both teams had 9-7 records, but the Titans earned the wild card berth because of the head to head tie-breaker.
Fast forward to Sunday and the stakes…once again…couldn’t be higher.
Both teams enter the contest at 3-2, and coming off what they would consider to be embarrassing road losses. Tennessee lost on the final play of the game in Buffalo last week, and Baltimore lost on the final play in Cleveland.
The winner of this game will earn the all-important head to head tie breaker while improving their record within the conference…another metric used in determining playoff tie breakers.
As it stands now, Tennessee is currently 4th in the AFC and Baltimore is 6th, and both teams are stuck in log jams within their own division. If they ultimately squander their chances for their respective division titles, and the automatic playoff bids that come with it, then the loser could find themselves on the outside looking in come January.
Would you expect anything different when these two bitter rivals clash?