Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) at Tennessee Titans (5-5)
The Titans are just 5-5 coming out of their bye, but they could go on a surprise second half run. They made the switch from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill under center 4 games ago and it has made a significant difference. After finishing last season 24th in first down rate at 34.12% and ranking 26th in first down rate through the first 6 games of this season at 32.69%, the Titans have a 40.69% first down rate in their past 4 games. The Titans are 3-1 in those games and that’s despite their defense underperforming due to injuries.
After finishing last season 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% and ranking 4th in the NFL in first down rate allowed at 30.93% through 6 games this season, the Titans have allowed a 38.30% first down rate in Tannehill’s 4 starts, due to linebacker Jayon Brown and defensive end Jurrell Casey, pair of high level defensive players, both missing time due to injury. Brown and Casey return to action this week and the Titans also get wide receiver Corey Davis and center Ben Jones back on offense. They’ve also been without defensive end Jeffrey Simmons and left tackle Taylor Lewan for significant chunks of the season and have since gotten them back, so they’re much closer to full strength than they’ve been in a while.
Perhaps their most important player returning from injury is kicker Ryan Succop, as the Titans have lost at least two games, if not three because of missed makeable field goals. Succop actually returned two games ago, struggling in his debut before not being tested in the Titans’ last game before the bye. Now after the bye, Succop should be much closer to 100%, which would be a big boost for this team. The Titans rank 14th in first down rate differential at +1.70%, suggesting they’ve played better than their record, despite starting Marcus Mariota for the first 6 games of the season and despite all their absences on both sides of the ball. My roster rankings have them 10th, so they could surprise down the stretch.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, rank 27th in first down rate differential at -4.05% and 24th in my roster rankings. Their offense, which ranks 25th in first down rate, doesn’t have the talent around the quarterback for either Gardner Minshew or Nick Foles to have much success, while their defense, which ranks 17th in first down rate allowed, is a shell of what it was in 2017, as they’ve lost 10 of their top-14 in terms of snaps played from that dominant defense. I have this line calculated at Tennessee -9, so we’re getting serious line value with the Titans as favorites of just 3.5.
There’s too much line value to not bet on the Titans, but I wouldn’t make a big bet because the Titans are in a very tough spot. While the Jaguars have a non-conference home game against the Buccaneers next week, a game in which they will likely be favored, the Titans have to go to Indianapolis for a big divisional matchup, a game in which they will likely be underdogs. Favorites are just 36-71 ATS since 2016 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. Making matters worse, divisional home favorites are just 30-65 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. The talent gap between these two teams is too significant to not bet on the Titans, but this is a smaller bet.
Tennessee Titans 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17
Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3.5