Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (9-6) at Tennessee Titans (9-6)

The Colts got off to a 1-5 start, but have won 8 of their last 9 games, including 4 wins by at least 14 points. Injuries were an issue for them early in the season, but they’ve been one of the better teams in the entire league over the second half of the year. They rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.21% and 9th in point differential at +73 on the season, but since week 9 they rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +8.26%.

The Titans have been close to just as good over that time period though, ranking 3rd in first down rate differential at +6.58% since week 9. Going into their week 8 bye, the Titans had one of the worst offenses in the league, ranking 29th in first down rate differential at 30.17%, but they’ve been much better in the second half of the season, with quarterback Marcus Mariota playing at a much higher level and the running game producing much more with Derrick Henry as the lead back rather than Dion Lewis. Their defense, meanwhile, has remained dominant and ranks 2nd in the NFL on the season at 32.29%.

The Titans have had the easiest schedule in the league for the past 4 weeks, beating the Jets, Jaguars, Giants, and Redskins, but they’ve also beaten the Cowboys and Patriots convincingly in the second half of the season and the Colts haven’t had the toughest schedule either. The Titans lost convincingly against the Colts in Indianapolis a few weeks back, but they also beat the Jaguars and Giants with ease, while the Colts lost to the Jaguars and nearly lost to the Giants.

Unfortunately for the Titans, they are going into this huge win or go home game with injury uncertainty at quarterback, as Marcus Mariota was once again knocked out of the game with a stinger in last week’s win over the Redskins. Mariota is expected to start this pivotal game and has looked fine throwing the ball at practice this week, but he’s already been knocked out of the game with a stringer twice in the past few weeks, so he’s no guarantee to make it through this game.

Despite that, I think we’re getting enough line value with the Titans as 3.5-point home underdogs for them to be worth a small bet. Assuming Mariota makes it through the game and plays reasonably well, I have this line calculated at Tennessee -1.5, so even with uncertainty priced in, Tennessee +3.5 is a good line to get with them. The Titans are also going to be without stud defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, but the Colts aren’t at 100% either with talented center Ryan Kelly once again on the sidelines with an injury. This isn’t a huge play because of Mariota’s uncertainty, but the Titans have a good chance to pull the upset if he plays the whole game and I like getting more than a field goal of protection.

Sunday Update: Despite practicing all week, Marcus Mariota is reportedly not going to play this week because of fears that he could make his injury worse long-term. That hasn’t been confirmed and we won’t know for sure until later tonight, but I can’t recommend betting the Titans without Mariota, even though the line has jumped to 5. I unfortunately locked this in at +3.5, but that was with the expectation that Mariota would play in a must win game after practicing all week.

Indianapolis Colts 20 Tennessee Titans 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Washington Redskins at Tennessee Titans: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (7-7) at Tennessee Titans (8-6)

The Titans started the season with one of the toughest schedules in the league, going 5-6 across an 11-game stretch in which they faced 9 teams that are currently .500 or better. The schedule has gotten significant easier in the past few weeks though, with games against the Jets, Jaguars, and Giants, and that continues this week against the Redskins. The Redskins are 7-7, but they’re also on their 4th quarterback of the season in Josh Johnson and have injury concerns on both sides of the ball, with left guard Ty Nsekhe, wide receiver Josh Doctson, tight end Vernon Davis, and defensive end Matt Ioannidis all not practicing on Friday and possibly joining a list of unavailable players that includes cornerback Quinton Dunbar, wide receiver Paul Richardson, tight end Jordan Reed, and right guard Brandon Scherff, along with Alex Smith and Colt McCoy, their top-2 quarterbacks.

The Titans have won their previous 3 games during this easy stretch, including back-to-back games in which they won by at least 17 points and won the first down rate battle by at least 12%. Even in a narrow victory against the Jets a few weeks ago, they dominated most of the game, winning the first down rate battle by 18.59% and winning the game despite a pick six and a blocked punt. On the season, they rank 12th in first down rate differential at -1.72%. They could easily continue that this week and win by double digits here at home against the Redskins, but they’re not in nearly as good of a spot as they’ve been in recently.

While their previous easy games were not followed by potential look ahead games on the schedule, the Titans might not bring their best effort this week with a much bigger game against the Colts on deck. Teams are just 19-32 ATS over the past 30 years as 7.5+ point favorites before being home underdogs and just 7-16 ATS as 10+ point favorites. That being said, I have no interest in taking the Redskins this week. Not only are they on their 4th starting quarterback, starting former street free agent Josh Johnson, who has been with the team for about two weeks, but they also seem to have serious locker room issues and gave no effort two weeks ago against the Giants in a home blowout loss.

The Redskins had better effort in an upset win against the lowly Jaguars last week, but they were embarrassed coming off of a blowout and might not bring the same effort again this week, especially with a more intriguing home game against the Eagles on deck. They are 5.5-point underdogs in that game and teams are just 27-54 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more, as big upcoming home games tend to be a distraction to teams. There’s not quite enough here to bet the Titans confidently at 10, but if this drops down to 9.5 I will reconsider, as the Titans should be able to win by double digits.

Tennessee Titans 24 Washington Redskins 10

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -10

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at New York Giants: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (7-6) at New York Giants (5-8)

The Titans began the season with a tough schedule, with 8 of their first 11 games coming against teams that currently have a winning record, but they are right in the middle of a very easy stretch right now and have won back-to-back games against the Jets and Jaguars. The game against the Jets was close, but the Titans won that game despite throwing a pick six and allowing a blocked punt and they won the first down rate battle by 18.59%. They then followed that up with a blowout of the Jaguars in a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 16.99%.

The Giants have been better in recent weeks and they’re not as bad as the Jets or Jaguars, but they are missing a key player with injury on both sides of the ball, wide receiver Odell Beckham and safety Landon Collins, and they are one of the easier teams the Titans have faced this season. Beckham and Collins weren’t missed against a Redskins team they started Mark Sanchez and didn’t try on defense, but this is a much tougher game. The Titans are a little banged up with right tackle Jack Conklin and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo injured, but I still have this line calculated at Tennessee -3, so we’re getting some good line value with them at +1.

The Titans are also in a better spot than the Giants, with another easy game at home against the Redskins on deck, while the Giants have another relatively tough game on deck in Indianapolis, Underdogs are 94-57 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs and, even though the Titans are just 1-point underdogs, the logic stands that they should be a little bit more focused this week, with no upcoming distractions to prepare for. They’re worth a bet this week.

Tennessee Titans 24 New York Giants 20 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +1

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) at Tennessee Titans (6-6)

The Jaguars pulled off a big home upset victory last week over the Colts, shutting them out in a 6-0 victory as 4.5-point underdogs. It was a reminder that, while their defense hasn’t quite as good as last season, it’s still largely the same personnel. Statistically they’ve still been one of the better units in the league, allowing opponents to pick up first downs at a 32.93% rate, 4th lowest in the NFL. However, I don’t think that win really improves their outlook for the rest of the season.

The Jaguars’ extreme offensive issues were also shown in that game, as the Jaguars failed to get it in the end zone at home against an average at best Indianapolis defense and actually moved the ball at a lower rate (20.37%) than the Colts did (26.76%). The Colts actually had 5 drives in Jacksonville’s territory, but failed to score because of three failed 4th downs, an interception, and time running out at the end of the game.

Cody Kessler didn’t turn it over in his first start, but he has a much lower floor as a starter than Blake Bortles, as he is a very limited downfield thrower who holds the ball for far too long. The Jaguars will be able to run the ball better this week with Leonard Fournette back from suspension, but their offensive line has been decimated by injury and their receiving corps has struggled to get separation, so Kessler isn’t going to get much help from his offensive supporting cast.

Despite the Jaguars’ offensive issues, this line shifted from Jacksonville +6 on the early line last week to +4 this week. That could be in part because the Titans barely squeaked out a victory at home against the Jets as favorites last week, but the Titans played better than the final score suggested, as they managed to win despite throwing a pick six and allowing a blocked punt. The Titans had 22 first downs to 15 for the Jets, winning the first down rate battle by 18.59%, and holding the Jets’ offense to only field goals. The Jets joined the Jaguars as the two teams not to make it inside their opponent’s 10 yard line all game last week.

I wouldn’t be shocked if the Jaguars were kept from getting deep into opponent’s territory again this week. The Titans’ strong defensive performance last week was no fluke, as they rank 5th in the NFL in first down rate allowed at 33.65%, just one spot behind the Jaguars. Given that, this line is way too low at -4. The Jaguars have also had inconsistent effort this season and might not be as focused on a short week after a big win. It’s a small sample size, but teams are just 4-10 ATS on Thursday Night Football after a divisional home upset win as underdogs of 3+. This is only a medium confidence pick because the Titans have been so inconsistent this season, but I like their chances at home on a short week.

Tennessee Titans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 10

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -4

Confidence: Medium

New York Jets at Tennessee Titans: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

New York Jets (3-8) at Tennessee Titans (5-6)

The Titans have been one of the most unpredictable teams in the league this season, having the 3rd most DVOA variance in the league, only ahead of the Bills (who have started 4 different quarterbacks) and the Titans’ opponents this week, the New York Jets. For that reason, I’m not too excited to bet either side, but the Titans should be able to win this one with ease. They rank just 21st in first down rate differential at -2.25%, but they’ve also faced the 2nd toughest schedule in the NFL, with their opponents combining for a 56% winning percentage.

By contrast, their opponents this week are just 3-8 and are one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 29th in first down rate differential at -5.69%. If the Titans can win by double digits against the Cowboys and Patriots in recent weeks, they should be able to blowout the lowly Jets. However, because both of these teams have been unpredictable, it’s hard to say that with much certainty.

The Titans also have to play again in a few days on Thursday Night Football, which is usually a bad spot for favorites, as they are 55-72 ATS since 2012 before being a Thursday game, but the Titans have another easy game next week, hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars, so that kind of cancels that out. Favorites of 7+ are 58-35 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 7+ again. There’s not enough here to confidently take the Titans, but I like their chances of covering this 8-point spread.

Tennessee Titans 24 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -8

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (5-5) at Houston Texans (7-3)

The Titans are high on my underrated list right now, following a tough performance in Indianapolis last week. They lost that game 38-10, but the Colts have been playing legitimately great football for weeks (they’re also high on my underrated list) and the Titans also lost Marcus Mariota in the first half of that game with a stinger in his neck, which certainly didn’t help. As a result, this line shifted from Houston -4 on the early line to Houston -6.5 this week, which I think is a major overreaction. Mariota’s injury is not considered serious and he should be good to go this week after getting in full practices on both Friday and Saturday. Whenever Mariota is healthy this is a legitimately dangerous team.

The Titans have a strong defense that ranks 9th in first down rate allowed at 34.42%. They’re a middle of the pack team in first down rate differential on the season, ranking 20th at -1.86%, but that’s because Mariota was limited with an elbow injury for most of the first half of the season, which really limited their offense. When he’s at full strength, the Titans have a capable offense to complement their strong defense and they are a tough team to handle as a result.

Prior to last week’s game in Indianapolis, the Titans covered their previous 3 games, losing by 1 on a failed 2-point conversion against a now 7-3 Chargers team, pulling an upset win in Dallas against the Cowboys, who haven’t lost since, and of course blowing out the Patriots, who were playing as well as anyone going into that game. Given that, it really makes no sense that this line is this high. In fact, I have these two teams close to even in my book, so we’re getting significant line value with the visitors.

The Texans are 7-3, but they haven’t exactly been blowing teams out. Just 2 of their 7 wins came by more than a touchdown and 4 of them came by 3 points or fewer, including a pair of overtime wins. I wish we were getting a full touchdown with Tennessee, but I expect this to be a close game, one that Tennessee could win straight up, so they’re still a great bet at +6 or +6.5. The only thing that stopped me from making this my Pick of the Week is the off chance that Mariota gets knocked out of the game again, as he has not been durable throughout his career.

Houston Texans 19 Tennessee Titans 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +6.5

Confidence: High

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (5-4) at Indianapolis Colts (4-5)

A week ago, both of these teams were high on my underrated list. The Colts are much healthier after being one of the most injury plagued teams in the league for the first half of the season and have a positive point differential and first down rate differential, despite a losing record, while the Titans now have a capable offense to complement their strong defense, with quarterback Marcus Mariota returning to form after suffering an elbow injury week 1 that limited him for most of the first half of the season.

The Colts were only 2.5-point favorites against the Jaguars last week, so I made a big play on them. The final margin was only 3 points, but they jumped out to a big first half lead, overall won the first down rate battle by 3.40%, and could easily have better days ahead with their roster close to full strength. Because the final score was not that impressive, the Colts remain an underrated team and could easily be one of the better teams in the AFC from here on out. Andrew Luck looks as good as he ever has, while their offensive line, running game, and defense have all been pleasant surprises this year, after years of struggling in those aspects of the game. On the season, they rank 14th in first down rate differential at +1.13% and they are now as healthy as they’ve been all year.

On the other side, I did not pick the Titans last week because it’s typically not a good idea to bet against the Patriots once they get on a mid-season roll, but the Titans were able to overcome that and pull off a shocking blowout upset victory. Despite beating the Patriots, I still think the Titans are an underrated team, as much of the conversation around that game is about how the sky is supposedly falling for New England, rather than about how the Titans are legitimate contenders with a healthy Mariota. Their defense ranks 5th in the NFL, allowing opponents to pick up a first down or touchdown on just 32.55% of their snaps, and so they could easily be a very dangerous team in the second half of the season if they get even decent play from their offense.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost line value with the Titans in the past week, as obviously their home upset win over the Patriots got a lot more attention than the Colts’ win over the Jaguars. Favored by a field goal a week ago, the Colts are now just 2-point favorites, a big shift, considering 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. Now as 2-point favorites, the Colts basically just have to win at home to cover this line.

I have these two teams about even (the Titans are one spot higher in my roster rankings), so we’re getting some line value with the Colts. The Colts are also in a better spot, as the Titans could be a little flat after such a big victory last week (teams are 38-50 ATS since 2002 after a home win as underdogs of 6+). That being said, there isn’t enough here for the Colts to be worth betting against a good Tennessee team. The most likely outcome here is an Indianapolis win by a field goal, but Tennessee pulling out the minor “upset” is certainly a strong possibility as well.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Tennessee Titans 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2

Confidence: Low