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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Rookie Andrew Luck has heard plenty of stories from veterans about the rivalry between the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South.
"There is a great history between the two franchises," Luck said. "We're told to always expect a dog fight, a tough test and a really good hard-nosed defense."
The Titans are trying to turn the tide in a series dominated by Indianapolis for most of the decade they've been together in the AFC South, thanks largely to Peyton Manning before Luck settled in this year at quarterback.
"He's going to be a special player," Titans coach Mike Munchak said of Luck. "Unfortunately, we have to play him twice a year."
The Titans (3-4) get their first look at Luck on Sunday with second place in the division behind Houston up for grabs instead of first. The Titans want a third straight win to claw their way to .500 at the midpoint of the season after a 1-4 start. They are favored against the Colts (3-3) who already have more wins with Luck than they had all of last season.
Nothing in this series is guaranteed, not with Tennessee having lost six of seven to Indianapolis and six of nine in Nashville. The Titans even became the first team to lose to the Colts last season on Dec. 18 as Manning watched from the sideline, and that loss cost them their first playoff berth since 2008 in a tiebreaker with Cincinnati.
"We know what we did," Titans defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said of that loss. "We went out there and stunk it up."
Indianapolis is trying to win on the road for the first time this season and end a 10-game road skid overall. The Colts have big wins over Minnesota and Green Bay at home in their dome, plus a 17-13 victory over Cleveland last week. On the road, Luck has seven turnovers, and the defense has been shredded.
"It's huge for us," Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. "That's the next thing as far as confidence in the entire group, is to win one on the road and to get on the plus side of the ledger. Nothing could be better for us right now than to win on the road."
The Titans have plenty of issues of their own even with two straight wins.
They beat Buffalo 35-34 last week, and Chris Johnson ran wild with 195 yards and two touchdowns. They also got an interception and forced the Bills to turn over the ball on downs to seal the win, yet gave up more than 30 points for the sixth time this season. Nobody gives up more points than Tennessee: 34 a game.
"There's nothing we can do about the game that just passed or the ones before," Titans cornerback Jason McCourty. "The numbers are what they are, and we are where we are, so it's up to us to make the improvements and adjustments we need to make sure some of those come down."
Veteran Matt Hasselbeck will start his fourth straight game for Tennessee with Jake Locker, the eighth pick overall in 2011, still healing up his left, non-throwing shoulder. Hasselbeck is 3-1 against the Colts, and he had his best game against Buffalo, throwing for 205 yards with the winning touchdown and no turnovers.
Hasselbeck may not have left tackle Michael Roos protecting him against Dwight Freeney. Roos, who has started 119 straight games, had an emergency appendectomy Monday, and Mike Otto could take his first snap this season replacing Roos.
The Colts are hoping to have running back Donald Brown, who missed the past two games, though rookie Vick Ballard ran for 84 yards against the Browns. Luck not only is showing he can throw, averaging 279 yards a game, he also leads AFC quarterbacks with 115 yards rushing and ran for two TDs last week.
The injuries have taken a bigger toll on defense, with linebacker Robert Mathis and tackle Fili Moala missing two games with knee injuries. Freeney and end Cory Redding also have been banged-up; Redding was out last week.
"Hopefully we can get some guys back, and I guess continue with that momentum," Freeney said.
The Colts are giving up an average 141.7 yards rushing, but allowed 254 yards in their last road game against the Jets. Johnson comes in leading the NFL with 451 yards rushing since Week 4.
"He's just another threat," Redding said. "Another week and we have to face another great back. The biggest thing is going down there and finding a way to stop him, containing him for the most part."
A win by the Colts puts them above .500 for the first time since time since Manning was throwing passes for them in 2010. The Titans would have hope again of reaching the playoffs with 10 AFC teams bunched between 4-3 and 3-4.
"So that right there will put us right where we need to be at," Titans safety Michael Griffin said.
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