Few likely thought the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans would be sitting just outside the playoff picture with only six weeks remaining in the season.
However, the loser of Sunday's meeting in Oakland would virtually be eliminated from contention.
After combining to go 10-22 in 2012, the clubs are among six AFC teams clinging to playoff hopes with 4-6 records, one game behind the New York Jets and Miami for the conference's final wild-card position.
Both teams have struggled to find consistency, but the Raiders appear to enter this contest with some momentum following their first road victory since last October, a 28-23 final over Houston last Sunday.
Matt McGloin will get another shot at quarterback after becoming the fourth player since the 1970 merger to throw three touchdown passes and no interceptions in his first career start.
Terrelle Pryor is nursing a sprained knee and hasn't been too effective lately, posting a 44.2 passer rating with one touchdown and eight interceptions while being sacked 18 times in his last four games. He had recorded a 97.6 rating with four TDs and two picks in his first four starts and will be the backup Sunday if he is healthy.
"Our job as coaches is to try to do the things that we feel like give us the best opportunity to win," Allen said. "That's what those players in that locker room are looking for. Now, it's good to know that you have options. That's, obviously, a positive. I don't look at it as a tough situation. I look at it as a good situation."
McGloin, an undrafted product out of Penn State, was 18 of 32 for 197 yards against the Texans.
"He played flawless football, especially for this being his first start in the National Football League," safety Charles Woodson said. "He put the ball in there. He had some guys early on in the game that had some drops, but he put it right on the numbers and those are catches the guys have to make for him."
The Titans, losers of five of six, might be more concerned with slowing down Oakland's AFC-best rushing attack. The Raiders average 145.4 yards on the ground, including 160.7 over their last three contests, seemingly more effective with Rashad Jennings taking over for the injured Darren McFadden.
McFadden, whose status is uncertain for Sunday, totaled 352 yards on 98 carries in seven games before suffering a hamstring injury in Week 9. Jennings has nearly matched that in his last three games alone, running 57 times for 340 yards, including a career-best 150 against Houston.
Tennessee is allowing 129.2 rushing yards over its last six games and its 15 run TDs allowed this season are tied for the most in the league. The Titans surrendered 223 second-half yards in their 30-27 loss to Indianapolis on Nov. 14, a game in which they held a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
"We as a defense, we got to get off the field," said safety Bernard Pollard, whose 63 total tackles lead Tennessee. "We had guys in gaps, missed tackles ... No matter what's going on, we have to find a way to get off the field, and we didn't do that."
Even with a win Sunday, the Titans would face an uphill climb with three of their final five games also coming on the road, including trips to Indianapolis and Denver. They haven't reached the playoffs since 2008.
"All that matters now is this game on Sunday, so I think they need to focus in on that," coach Mike Munchak said of his players. "They understand ... the big picture is there. We all understand the situation we're in. We can't worry about what we didn't accomplish to this point. We can't get caught up in what it means if we don't accomplish what we want to accomplish. We just have to concentrate on this window."
One positive for Tennessee has been the play of Ryan Fitzpatrick following Jake Locker's season-ending Lisfranc injury. Fitzpatrick has gone 44 of 61 for 486 yards and three TDs in his last two games.
Chris Johnson, who is averaging 63.2 yards a game, recorded 142 yards on 27 carries in a 38-13 win over the Raiders in Nashville on Sept. 12, 2010, the last meeting between these teams.
The Associated Press News Service
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