Tennessee Titans (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (4-3)
Prior to last week’s loss, the Panthers were undefeated with backup quarterback Kyle Allen under center and could have arguably been undefeated on the season had they started Allen to begin the season instead of a very injured Cam Newton, who started 2 games that were lost by a combined 9 points. However, a couple of their victories also could have gone the other way and they were embarrassed in their loss last week, losing 51-13 in San Francisco.
On the season, they rank just 22nd in first down rate differential at -2.41% after that loss. The 49ers are arguably the best team in the NFL, but that was still a humiliating defeat for a team that considered itself in contention, and even before that loss to San Francisco, the Panthers ranked just 13th in first down rate differential at +1.71%. Allen is seemingly regressing weekly and overall he ranks 5th worst in yards per attempt (6.66) among qualifying quarterbacks.
The Titans are also starting a backup quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, but he’s playing at a higher level (73.1% completion, 8.32 YPA) and is a much more experienced player. He’s not a great starter, but the Titans have a strong roster overall and don’t need much more than competent quarterback play from him. Even with underwhelming quarterback play, the Titans went 9-7 last season, despite facing a league high 9 playoff teams (4-5).
Their defense ranked 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% in 2018 and that has carried into this season, as they rank 5th at 32.68%. If Tannehill can continue playing competently, they should be a tough team going forward. Even with Mariota starting the first 6 games of the season, the Titans rank 13th in first down rate at +1.14%, significantly better than the Panthers, who rank 22nd. That’s consistent with my roster rankings, which have the Titans 11th and the Panthers 18th.
I have this line calculated at even, so we’re getting good line value with the Titans at +3.5, with about 1 in 4 games decided by 3 points or fewer. They’d probably be my Pick of the Week if they had defensive lineman Jurrell Casey healthy, but the Titans are deep at that position with DaQuon Jones and Jeffrey Simmons, a first round rookie who has played well in his first 2 games back from a torn ACL, so losing Casey isn’t as big of a deal as it could have been. The Titans also will have cornerback Adoree Jackson, edge rusher Cameron Wake, and middle linebacker Jayon Brown, who’ve all missed time previously this season. I still like the Titans a lot as long as this line is higher than a field goal.
Tennessee Titans 20 Carolina Panthers 19 Upset Pick +165
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5