Houston Texans (1-12-1) at Tennessee Titans (7-7)
The Titans started the season 7-3, but have since fallen back to earth with four straight losses, leaving them in a battle for a playoff spot, even in the weakest division in the AFC. That’s not all that surprising though, as the Titans’ wins were never that impressive. Their only win against a team that is 6-8 or better right now came against the Commanders, who are 7-6-1 now, but were just 1-4 when they were starting Carson Wentz against the Titans. On top of that, all of the Titans’ wins have been close, with several that could have gone either way.
Only two of the Titans’ wins have come by more than a touchdown and neither win was as impressive as that suggests, as they needed a defensive touchdown to push the margin to 9 against the Colts, while their 10-point win over the Packers came against a team in a terrible spot, playing on a short week after an overtime game, a spot in which teams are just 2-22 ATS all-time. Meanwhile, the Titans’ seven losses have come by a combined 84 points, leading to an underwhelming -38 point differential, despite a below average schedule. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Titans are even worse, ranking 30th at -6.25.
The Titans are also extremely banged up, which has been a problem for them for most of the season, but things have gone from bad to worse recently. Already without talented left tackle Taylor Lewan for the season, the Titans will also be missing their other two best offensive linemen, center Ben Jones and right guard Nate Davis, this week, while quarterback Ryan Tannehill is out after reaggravating an ankle injury that cost him two games earlier this season, forcing raw rookie backup Malik Willis into action, after he struggled mightily to move the ball through the air in his previous stint as the starter.
The Titans’ defense will get back top edge defender Denico Autry, starting safety Amani Hooker, and possibly every down linebacker Zach Cunningham this week, but they remain without four expected week one starters, edge defender Harold Landry, linebacker David Long, and cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and Elijah Molden. Their defense isn’t in horrible shape, but their offense looks like one of the weaker in the league with a backup quarterback throwing to an underwhelming receiving corps with basically all of his capable offensive linemen injured.
Luckily, the Titans are facing the Texans, who have the worst record in the league at 1-12-1, but the Texans have been more competitive than that suggests. If you exclude games started by horrendous backup Kyle Allen, the Texans have just three losses by more than 10 points and four losses by more than one-score this season, so they’ve been competitive most of their games, as long as Allen isn’t the starter. They still rank dead last in schedule adjusted efficiency, but not by a wide margin and they’re only a half-point behind the Titans in that metric.
The Texans are also going in the opposite direction injury wise, getting talented edge defender Jonathan Greenard back from a 9-game absence last week and getting top cornerback Steven Nelson and top wide receiver Brandin Cooks back this week, from absences of 2 games and 4 games respectively. With the Titans missing a significant amount of talent and starting an unproven backup quarterback, the Texans actually have a half point edge over them in my roster rankings.
Unfortunately, we’re not getting great line value with the Texans, as this line has dropped all the way down to three in the wake of all of the Titans’ injuries, most notably Tannehill’s absence. However, we are still getting some line value, as I would consider these two teams about even and the Titans are also in a tough spot, having to play a much tougher game on short rest next week on Thursday Night Football, a spot in which favorites cover at just a 43.2% rate.
The bad spot the Titans are in may be somewhat offset by the Titans having to play with a backup quarterback, which usually makes a team more focused, but it’s also very possible the Titans overlook their 1-win opponent this week, which could easily result in the Texans doubling that win total. Even if they can’t pull the outright upset, I think there’s enough here for the Texans to be worth betting at this number.
Tennessee Titans 17 Houston Texans 16
Pick against the spread: Houston +3