Houston Texans (8-5) at Tennessee Titans (8-5)
The Titans saved their season by switching from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Sitting at 2-4 after week 6 when they made the switch, the Titans have won 6 of 7 games to get to 8-5 and climb into a tie for the AFC South lead with the Texans, who they will play twice in the next three weeks in games that would decide the division if either team managed to sweep both.
Tannehill isn’t just game managing the Titans to victory either, as Tannehill’s run at quarterback has actually coincided with a significant decline on defense. 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 37.37% first down rate in Tannehill’s 7 starts, 24th in the NFL over that stretch, due to injuries to players like linebacker Jayon Brown, cornerback Malcolm Butler, defensive end Jurrell Casey, and cornerback Adoree Jackson. This offense is carrying the team, ranking 2nd in first down rate at 42.50% since Tannehill entered the starting lineup, giving them the 3rd best first down rate differential over that stretch at +5.13%.
Tannehill probably won’t continue playing this well going forward, but the Titans have a strong running game too and a good supporting cast around the quarterback, so the Titans’ offense is legitimately a strong unit. Defensively, they’ve gotten Casey and Brown back from injuries, though the two cornerbacks Butler and Jackson remain out, leaving them very thin at a key position. They’re still a couple points better than the Texans in my roster rankings though, ranking 11th, while the Texans rank 14th.
Deshaun Watson leads a strong Houston offense that ranks 4th in first down rate at 39.47%, but their defense ranks 27th at 38.12% and has been even worse in 5 games without JJ Watt, with a 39.51% first down rate allowed in those 5 games. We’re not getting a ton of line value with the Titans, but this line favoring them only by a field goal at home suggests these two teams are about even, which isn’t the case. I like the Titans for a small bet as there’s a good chance this game at least pushes.
Tennessee Titans 30 Houston Texans 24
Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3