NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -Call it jumping into the deep end of the NFL pool.
The Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars, the other two teams from the AFC South to make the playoffs last season besides division winner Indianapolis, open the season Sunday against each other for the second straight year.
And neither the Titans nor the Jaguars would have it any other way.
``We're not going in thinking we want to be No. 2 in the division,'' Titans center Kevin Mawae said. ``We want to win the division. Right now, I think there's some people have got us ranked fourth in the division. That's great. It's a great place to be.''
This is one of only two games in the NFL's opening weekend featuring a pair of playoff teams from last year. The other was the New York Giants against Washington.
``I know Indianapolis has run away with our division the last five years or so, and I know both these football teams have aspirations of running them down,'' Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. ``We get to tee it up Sunday. Three of our first four are in the division, so there will be a lot of action early.''
Especially in the AFC South. The Titans finished ahead of Jacksonville in the division at 4-2, jumping ahead by rushing for 282 yards for a 13-10 win on opening day of 2007. The Jaguars rebounded by winning six of their final eight in finishing 11-5 and a game ahead of Tennessee (10-6) for the two wild-card berths.
That run started in Nashville with a 28-13 win on Nov. 11 as the Jaguars turned the tables and ran for 166 yards even with David Garrard out with an injured left ankle.
But the Jaguars, an NFL-best 9-4 in openers, head into this game trying to deal with the shooting of offensive lineman Richard Collier. Their top backup at tackle was shot several times while sitting in his sports utility vehicle Tuesday morning and has been in critical condition. Jacksonville signed Charles Spencer to take his spot on the roster.
Now the Jaguars have to play without a player well-liked in their locker room.
``We know he would want us to go out and try to kick some butt,'' Garrard said. ``We don't want to let any of this happen in vain. We want to make sure we're preparing and motivated even more now to go out and play well for him.''
These teams have played 26 times, with 17 games decided by a touchdown or less, and couldn't be more similar.
``Two teams that are based on stopping the run, rushing the passer and running the ball, ball-control offense,'' Titans Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. ``It's going to come down to who does that the best. We're both built around the same philosophies, both teams. It'll be a really good matchup.''
Jacksonville still has Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, the key pieces of an offense that ranked second in the NFL in 2007, averaging 149.4 yards per game. Garrard protected the ball well with only three interceptions, and he has proven he can throw away a ball to avoid being sacked.
The Titans ranked fifth in the league with 131.8 yards rushing last season with LenDale White, and they drafted speedy Chris Johnson out of East Carolina to add their own change-up back. They also signed veteran tight end Alge Crumpler to give Vince Young a dependable receiver, but Young has to limit his mistakes after being picked off 17 times in 2007.
Fisher fired Norm Chow and brought back Mike Heimerdinger as his offensive coordinator. Heimerdinger has worked to improve Young's footwork and pushed him to run more often.
``The guy can throw it, he can run with it, plays with a lot of poise, he's been a winner at every level of his career and his life,'' Del Rio said of Young. ``So we're preparing for the same type of guy that we've been watching and playing against and preparing for.''
Jacksonville won't say if free agent addition Jerry Porter will play after hamstring surgery July 18, and Reggie Williams is dealing with his own hamstring injury. Tennessee cut Roydell Williams, a starter last season who tied for the team-lead with 55 catches, preferring to go with younger and healthier receivers.
Del Rio has a new defensive coordinator himself in Gregg Williams, who had that job with the Titans when Tennessee beat the Jaguars three times in 1999 to reach the Super Bowl. When Williams was passed over for the Redskins' head job, he was hired to boost the Jags' pass rush.
The Titans lost two defensive ends themselves to free agency and brought back Jevon Kearse. He is the only new starter on a unit that ranked fifth in total yards allowed and yards rushing (92.4) per game.
All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth missed the last game with Jacksonville with his own hamstring injury. He won't miss this one to start a new season.
``We just need to go out there and just take it to them,'' he said, ``because it's going to be a physical battle. I hope everybody's ready for it.''
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