Dec 232012
 

Tennessee Titans (5-9) at Green Bay Packers (10-4)

I’ve called Green Bay overrated because of all their injuries and I still think there’s a lot of truth to that. Injuries at running back have left them with a washed up Ryan Grant, an unproven DuJuan Harris, and fullback John Kuhn to carry the rock. The loss of Bryan Bulaga at right tackle has forced them to start undrafted rookie Don Barclay, who is really struggling. They’ve lost Jordy Nelson from their receiving corps, right as Greg Jennings returned, and Jennings has barely done anything since returning.

Defensively, they have lost linebackers Nick Perry and Desmond Bishop for the season. Perry’s absence, along with the lack of depth at rush linebacker and the ineptitude of their defensive line have left them with one viable pass rusher, Clay Matthews. Bishop’s replacement, DJ Smith, is also out for the season, leaving converted rush linebacker Brad Jones starting at inside linebacker. Charles Woodson also remains out.

The Packers were so good in 2010 despite injuries because they still had key defensive players healthy. Clay Matthews, Desmond Bishop, Cullen Jenkins, BJ Raji, Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, and Nick Collins were all huge for them on the league’s 2nd ranked scoring defense. Bishop is out for the year and Woodson is out for at least the reminder of the regular season. Jenkins left as a free agent and Raji hasn’t been the same since 2010. Nick Collins had to retire because of injury, leaving Williams and now that he’s healthy Matthews as the only ones of those 7 healthy and playing near their respective 2010 levels this year. They’ve added some nice young players in the meantime, like Casey Hayward, but it’s not enough for them to be considered as good currently as they once were.

Last year, they were so good despite a rough defense because they dominated the turnover battle and scored 35.0 points per game. This year, thanks to injuries and the pure unsustainability of that 35.0 points per game figure, they are averaging just 24.6 points per game (Mason Crosby isn’t helping matters). That’s good, but a far cry from last season. They didn’t come into this season with the goal of being the league’s #13 scoring offense. Meanwhile, their turnover differential is down from +24 to +6. All of this has combined to expose a vulnerable and now injury riddled defense.

As a result, they aren’t playing like the Packers of 2010 and 2011.  Their impressive wins collection is scarce and includes a blowout in Houston, two wins over the Bears, a home win over the Vikings, and a 14 point win at home over the Cardinals. In their other 10 games, they don’t have a single double digit win despite playing Detroit (twice), St. Louis, and Jacksonville. However, in spite of that, the odds makers can boost the spread on name value and know everyone will keep betting, as is the case this week as the Packers are a heavy public lean. I love fading the public because they always lose money in the long run.

Given that the Packers have a real lack of blowout wins this season, I’m instantly drawn to the 12.5 points with Tennessee. The problem is that Tennessee has had no shortage of blowout losses. They’ve lost 5 games by 21 or more and 6 of their 9 losses by come by 14 or more. As a result, even with the Packers’ lack of blowout wins, we’re not really getting any line value here.

The Titans rank 29th in net points per drive at -0.65, while the Packers rank 10th at 0.23. If you take the difference, multiply by 11 (the average numbers of drives per team per game), and add 2.5 for home field, you get that the Packers should be favored by 12, which is right where this line is. DVOA actually suggests that the Packers might be getting some line value here, as they rank 5th in weighted and regular DVOA, while the Titans rank 28th and 29th respectively.

I’m still going with the Titans for several reasons, however. The Packers’ lack of blowout wins is obviously one of them and in spite of the Titans’ large list of blowout losses, only one (a 14 point loss to the Texans) has come since a weird week 9 game in which the Bears took a 28-2 lead almost solely off special teams and returns. Before that, their last one was week 5.

They really got out of the gate horribly, with 4 losses of 21+ in their first 5 games, but since then, their young defense has settled down, allowing 25.0 points per game, 21.8 per game, if you exclude that weird Chicago game which wasn’t really their defense’s fault. They’ve finally started playing like I thought they would before the season, coming off a year in which they actually ranked 8th in the NFL in scoring defense.

The second reason is that there are several prominent trends on Tennessee’s side. Dogs are 108-67 ATS before being favorites since 2011 and the Titans just face the Jaguars next week. Going off that, non-conference dogs are 69-44 ATS before being divisional favorites since 2002. Meanwhile, Teams are 32-11 ATS as non-divisional double digit dogs before being divisional favorites since 1989. If you combine the last two trends, you get that non-conference double digit dogs are 11-5 ATS before being divisional favorites since 1989.

That makes a lot of sense. This is Tennessee’s Super Bowl. All they have left on their schedule is the crappy Jaguars. There are no distractions for them and they’ll be able to give the Packers their all. Green Bay, meanwhile, obviously needs a win here to remain in the hunt for a first round bye, but they don’t need to blow the Titans out and they might not give 100% effort for some 5-9 AFC team, especially with a divisional contest next on the horizon as they face the Vikings next week. Worst case scenario, I like my chances of getting a backdoor cover here or of covering because Mason Crosby left some points on the field for the Packers. It’s not a significant play, but the Titans should be the right side.

Public lean: Green Bay (80% range)

Sharps lean: GB 11 TEN 4

Final thoughts: Late reverse line movement has driven this down to -11, so sharps in general are probably on the Titans. I’m sticking at 2, however.

Green Bay Packers 27 Tennessee Titans 17

Pick against spread: Tennessee +12.5 (-110) 2 units

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