Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (6-3) at Baltimore Ravens (6-3)

The Ravens opened as 7-point favorites in New England last week, which immediately stood out to me as too high, but I understood it. The Patriots were just 3-5 and coming off of a near loss to the Jets, while the Ravens were 6-2 and hadn’t been exposed by all of their injury absences. However, after the Ravens lost that game straight up and lost another key player to injury in Nick Boyle, I thought we’d see a significant swing on this line, after it was favoring Baltimore by a touchdown over the Titans a week ago, but the line only shifted down one point to 6. Some of that could be due to the Titans’ losing 34-17 at home to the Colts, but the Colts are a quality team and the Titans led that one in the third quarter before special teams snafus and they finished the game positive in first down rate differential at 3.99%.

The Ravens were #1 offensively pretty much across the board in 2019, but they have fallen all the way to 28th in first down rate over expected this season. My roster rankings suggest they have underachieved compared to their talent level, which means they could easily be better in first down rate going forward, but even my roster rankings have this as a middling offense, as this is simply not the same offense as last year due to personnel losses, so even if they improve, they’ll be a far cry from last season’s team.

Already down stud right guard Marshal Yanda due to retirement, the Ravens lost their other stud offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley back in week 8 and then last week they lost Boyle, who is probably the best run blocking tight end in the league and a huge part of what this run heavy offense does. Boyle is legitimately a sixth offensive lineman as a run blocker, but he’s also reliable enough as a pass catcher to hurt you on play action, which made him such a valuable chess piece for this offense. This offense already hasn’t been catching teams off guard like it did last year and now down probably their best three blockers, it’s going to be so much tougher for this offense to execute the way they want to. I wouldn’t expect them to be more than a middling offense at best going forward.

The Ravens’ defensive play has remained above average, ranking 10th in first down rate allowed over expected, after ranking 7th last season, but this isn’t quite the same unit right now that they’ve had for most of the season. Cornerback Jimmy Smith may return from a 1-game absence this week, but they’ll be without starting defensive lineman Brandon Williams and, more importantly, top defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who was sorely missed against New England and will miss his second straight game this week. Defense is less predictable on a week-to-week basis than offense to begin with, but with the Ravens missing key players, it could be tough for them to avoid a regression on defense. 

The Ravens aren’t a bad team, but they’re not the kind of team that should be laying significant points against a capable opponent like the Patriots and, even more so, like their opponents this week in the Tennessee Titans. If the Ravens being favored by a touchdown against the Patriots was too much, then them being favored by 6 points against the Titans is way too much. This game is in Baltimore rather than New England, but with neither stadium allowing fans that barely matters.

The Titans have just a +14 point differential on the season, are 6-3 on the strength of a 4-1 record in games decided by one score, and rank just 19th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, but the good news is their offense has played very well, which is the more consistent side of the ball, while their defense has struggled. The Titans rank 5th in first down rate over expected at 2.48%, but just 29th in first down rate allowed over expected at 2.58%. If their defense can be even somewhat improved going forward and their offense continues to play at a high level, this is a team that could be very tough for anyone to play, like they were down the stretch last season.

I liked the Titans more earlier in the week, before their injury reports, as they will be without key players on both sides of the ball. Left tackle Taylor Lewan (5th game missed) is out for the season, but top cornerback Adoree Jackson had a shot to make his season debut this week, while edge defender Jadeveon Clowney (2nd game missed), slot receiver Adam Humphries (4th game missed), left guard Rodger Saffold (1st game missed), and possibly center Ben Jones (would be his first game missed) will be out as well. 

Even with those key players missing though, I still have the Titans slightly ahead in my roster rankings, so getting a full six points with them is a great value, especially with the Ravens being in a tough spot with another tough game against the Steelers on Thursday Night Football on deck. Favorites of a field goal or more cover at just a 43% rate all-time, which will make things even tougher for the Ravens this week. My calculated line is even, so even with the Titans’ injury situation, I like them enough to be my Pick of the Week.

Update: It doesn’t change anything since the Titans are already my Pick of the Week, but it’s good to know that Tennessee will have Ben Jones available for this one.

Tennessee Titans 24 Baltimore Ravens 23 Upset Pick +235

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +6

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (5-3) at Tennessee Titans (6-2)

This one is a tough call. The Colts have been better overall this season, ranking 8th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +1.75%, while the Titans rank 21st at -0.54%, but the Titans have been a much better offensive team than the Colts, which is important because offense is a much more predictable side of the ball. The Colts have a big edge on defense, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.06%, as compared to 21st at +1.61% for the Titans, but, if the Colts regress defensively, it would really expose their offense, which ranks 24th in first down rate over expected at -1.31%. The Titans, meanwhile, rank 11th in first down rate over expected at +1.07% and could easily be better defensively going forward, especially after acquiring slot cornerback Desmond King from the Chargers, one of the best players at his position in the league. They will also get edge defender Jadeveon Clowney back from a one-game absence this week.

Ordinarily, I would take a team like the Titans’ at home as small favorites against a team like the Colts that has struggled offensively, but my roster rankings have the Colts’ offense much higher than their performance so far, in large part due to their dominant offensive line. That suggests the Colts have underachieved offensively and could be improved going forward. In fact, in my roster rankings, these two teams are about even overall, suggesting this line is right about where it should be. I’m taking the Titans, but mostly only because the home team winning by a field goal is the most likely outcome in a tight matchup like this. This is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week.

Tennessee Titans 27 Indianapolis Colts 24

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -1.5

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-3) at Tennessee Titans (5-2)

Both of these teams have impressive records that get less impressive when you look at the box scores. The Bears’ five wins have all come by one score, including four games that all came down to the final score and a pair of nearly impossible comebacks. The Titans, meanwhile, have not faced a tough schedule, but have still had to walk the tightrope this season, winning their first 3 games by a combined 6 points and winning a fourth game in overtime.

However, there is plenty of reason to expect the Titans to be the significantly better team going forward. One is simply that, even though the Titans have been unimpressive in the box scores, they’ve still significantly outplayed the Bears overall this season. They won the first down rate battle by 6.99% in their week 5 blowout victory over the Bills, by far more impressive than any of the Bears’ games this season, and last week they won the first down rate battle by 5.87% even in a loss to the Bengals, losing that game primarily because they lost the turnover battle and allowed a ridiculous 11 of 16 on 3rd and 4th down, two things that are very inconsistent week-to-week. The Bears, meanwhile, were down 21 and 16 in the 4th quarter of two of their losses and rank just 26th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.95%, while the Titans rank 15th at +0.53%. 

On top of that, the Titans are in much better shape going forward because they’re an offensive led team, while the Bears are a defensive led team. Offense is by far the more predictable side of the ball and the Titans rank 6th in first down rate over expected at +2.43%, while the Bears rank 30th at -3.67% and are arguably even worse than that suggests, missing a trio of starting offensive linemen in James Daniels (4th game missed), Cody Whitehair (2nd game missed), and Bobby Massie (1st game missed). 

The Titans have to play another game in 4 days after this one, facing the Colts on Thursday Night Football, and favorites cover at just a 43.8% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football, which limits the amount I like Tennessee as 6.5 point favorites, but the Bears will need to continue being significantly better on defense for this game to be close and that’s far from a given. 

That becomes more likely if the Titans are missing key personnel on defense in this game and edge defense Jadeveon Clowney is a gametime decision after not practicing all week, but even if he doesn’t play, the Titans could offset his absence by getting top cornerback Adoree Jackson back for the first time all season. If one of those two play and this line doesn’t increase, I will bet the Titans and if both play, this could be a big Tennessee bet. For now this is a low confidence pick, but I will likely have an update this weekend, probably after Saturday afternoon, when Jackson’s status will need to be decided.

Tennessee Titans 26 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -6.5

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (5-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-5-1)

This is one of the toughest calls of the week. On one hand, while the Titans are 5-1, most of their wins have been close, with 4 of their 5 wins coming by 6 points or fewer, despite facing a relatively easy schedule and benefitting from a +9 turnover margin (+1.5 per game), which is unlikely to continue going forward. Their one win that wasn’t close was a surprisingly dominant effort against the Bills, winning 42-16 and winning the first down rate battle by 6.99, but the Titans still rank just 18th in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +0.13%.

At first glance, the Bengals seem like the kind of team that can at least give the Titans a close game. Not only have the Titans struggled to put away inferior teams like the Broncos, Texans, and Jaguars, but the Bengals have played a lot of close games over the past two seasons. They haven’t won a lot of games, winning just 3 games total over 23 games between the two seasons, but the Bengals also have a tie and 12 losses by one score or fewer, as opposed to 7 losses by more than one score.

However, even though the Bengals’ only loss by more than one score this season came against the Ravens, the Bengals have been much worse than that suggests, as the Bengals’ close games with the Colts and the Browns came in games in which the Bengals lost the first down rate battle by 8.20% and 5.56% respectively. They lost to the Colts despite winning the turnover battle and they needed to go 5 for 5 on 4th down and get a last second garbage time touchdown to cut it to a single score against the Browns. In total, the Bengals rank just 28th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.77%, actually down from their 23rd ranked finish in 2019 (-1.98%). 

The Bengals offense is better this season with quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Tee Higgins making impacts as rookies and left tackle Jonah Williams and wide receiver AJ Green making an impact after missing all of 2019 with injury, but the Bengals’ defense is significantly worse, as their veteran leaders in 2019, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, have been traded and benched respectively, in favor of younger players playing. 

On top of that, the Bengals are extremely banged up on the offensive line this week, missing four of their regular starters from a group that isn’t good to begin with, including Jonah Williams, who is one of their top offensive players, which has pushed them down to 29th in my roster rankings. My numbers suggest the Bengals should still be the pick by the slightest of margins, but this is definitely a no confidence pick and a push might be the most likely outcome.

Tennessee Titans 23 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +7

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-0) at Tennessee Titans (5-0)

Both of these teams are undefeated at 5-0, but both teams have been less than stellar for stretches this season. The Steelers faced one of the easiest schedules in the league in their first 4 games of the season and managed just a +1.39%% first down rate differential, before stepping their play up in a big way last week, winning the first down rate battle by 11.41% in a 38-7 blowout win over a Browns team who was the toughest team the Steelers had faced to date. 

The Titans, meanwhile, have faced a slightly tougher schedule, but four of their five wins have been decided by one score or less, with the exception being a 42-16 blowout victory over the Bills that stands out as being a significantly better performance by the Titans than their other four games, much in the same way the Steelers’ win last week against the Browns was significantly better than their first four results.

This matchup was originally supposed to take place in week 4, but was pushed forward to week 7 because of the Titans’ COVID outbreak. The extra time has benefited both teams, as it’s allowed them to get healthier, but the Titans get the bigger boost, as top cornerback Adoree Jackson and top wide receiver AJ Brown have both missed time with injury, among others, while several other key players have missed time with positive COVID tests. All of those key players are expected to play this week, with the possible exception of Jackson, who has yet to play this season. The Titans are missing left tackle Taylor Lewan now, but he hasn’t played that well so far this season and the Titans have a first round rookie in Isaiah Wilson behind him on the depth chart. The Steelers get stud right guard David DeCastro back healthy after he missed 3 of the first 5 games, but they’ll be without top off ball linebacker Devin Bush and slot cornerback Mike Hilton, who will miss their first games of the season this week.

These two teams are pretty even overall, but I give the Titans the edge right now because of their injury situation. Despite that, this line favors the Titans by just 1 point at home, suggesting the Steelers are the slightly better team. This line has moved from favoring Pittsburgh by a couple points earlier this week, but that’s pretty insignificant line movement and the Titans should still have a good chance of covering in a game they basically just need to win to cover. I would need Jackson to play for the Titans to be worth betting, but they’re definitely under consideration and they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes either way.

Tennessee Titans 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -1

Confidence: Low

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (4-1) at Buffalo Bills (4-1)

Both of these teams started the season 4-0, but both teams also had disappointing results last week, with the Bills getting blown out on the road by fellow undefeated Tennessee by score of 42-16 and the Chiefs getting upset in shocking fashion at home against a middling Raiders team by score of 40-32. The odds makers seem more concerned about the Titans’ result, as this line has shifted from favoring the Chiefs by 3 points on the early line to now favoring the Chiefs by 5, but the Bills’ disappointing result was more excusable, seeing as they were missing top cornerback Tre’Davious White, top linebacker Matt Milano, and starting wide receiver John Brown, who could all return this week. The Chiefs, meanwhile, will be without starting guard Kelechi Osemele and starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

I still have this line calculated at Kansas City -3, so we’re getting good line value with the Bills, but I’m no longer considering this for Pick of the Week, like I was when it seemed like Brown, White, and Milano would almost definitely return. All three practiced all week, but they’re still listed questionable and Brown and Milano were both downgraded to limited on Saturday after full practices all week. My calculated line factors in them all being questionable, but if one of them were to miss, my calculated line would increase, and vice versa if all three were able to play. If the latter ends up being the case, I’ll probably bet on Buffalo, perhaps for a larger wager, but this is a low confidence pick for now. If I decide to bet this one, it’ll be before gametime, when inactives are announced.

Update: Brown will play, but Milano won’t. It’s not ideal, but this line has moved up to 6 in some places. If you can get 6, I think that’s worth a bet. My calculated line is still -3 and this should be a close game.

Kansas City Chiefs 33 Buffalo Bills 30

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +6

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (1-4) at Tennessee Titans (4-0)

This is a tough one, as there are good arguments for both sides. On one hand, this line has shifted significantly since the early line last week, with the Titans going from being favored by 7 to being favored by 3.5. Normally I like to fade significant week-to-week line movements because they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. In this case, the line movement actually comes despite the Titans winning big over another good team in the Buffalo Bills, running away with the 42-16 victory on Tuesday Night Football last week, despite being without starting cornerback Kristian Fulton, starting wide receivers Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, and defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons, who are all expected back this week. The Texans also had a big win last week, but it came over the Jaguars and I’ve never seen a line drop like this despite the favored team winning big the previous week.

On the other hand, you could make a good case for this line being right. The Texans are 1-4, but they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the league this season, starting the season with arguably the three best teams in the AFC in the Ravens, Steelers, and Chiefs and a Vikings team that is better than their record, before their blowout victory in their first easy game of the season against the Jaguars last week. The Texans rank 16th in my roster rankings and realistically are a middling team that just got dealt a tough schedule to start the season.

The Titans, meanwhile, started the season with one of the easiest schedules in the league over their first 3 games and they won those games by just a combined 6 points. That, of course, changed last week against the Bills, but the Titans might have benefitted from the extended rest in that game, while the Bills played the previous week. This time around, the Titans will have to play on a short week after just playing on a Tuesday, while the Texans will be on normal rest. My calculated line is Tennessee -4.5, as the Titans do have a top-10 roster on paper when healthy, but I’m actually going to go with the Texans for pick ‘em purposes because of the scheduling angle. I could really go either way on this one though.

Tennessee Titans 33 Houston Texans 30

Pick against the spread: Houston +3.5

Confidence: None

Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (4-0) at Tennessee Titans (3-0)

I think this game is finally safe to write up. A line was posted at Buffalo -3.5 and after two straight days of COVID negatives by the Titans, it seems likely that this game will take place, for the Titans their first game in 16 days. A team having that much time off between games mid-season isn’t unprecedented in the NFL, as three teams went three weeks without playing in 2001 due to 9/11 cancellations, but there is very limited history of how this affects teams and the Titans have also had very little chance to practice and will be playing without several key players, which puts the Titans in uncharted territory historically.

The Titans activated defensive end Da’Quan Jones from the COVID list and they’ll have top wide receiver AJ Brown back from injury for the first time since week 1 and any of their other COVID list players could theoretically be activated before gametime, but right now they are slated to be without starting cornerback Kristian Fulton, starting wide receivers Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, and top defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons. This is nowhere near their full strength squad. 

Making matters worse for the Titans, they weren’t nearly as good as their 3-0 record suggests, even before all this happened. Their three wins have come by a combined 6 points, despite a +5 turnover margin, something that they’re not necessarily going to be able to count on going forward, and they actually entered week 5 ranking just 25th in first down rate differential at -3.44%. Part of that was due to injury absences, as they’ve also been missing top cornerback Adoree Jackson all season, but they’re in much worse shape now. 

The Titans also haven’t had a particularly tough schedule thus far, struggling to put away the Broncos, Jaguars, and Titans, and now face a much tougher test, as the Bills are off to an impressive 4-0 start and look significantly improved in 2020 thanks to Josh Allen’s improvement and the addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs. This line favors the Bills by 3.5, which would be my calculated line in normal circumstances, but the Titans are also definitely at a disadvantage due to their lack of practice time and unpredictable schedule over the past two weeks. 

I’m not sure if I’m going to bet on the Bills, however, because the Titans have players who could be activated before gametime, while the Bills’ top cornerback Tre’Davious White is questionable after not practicing all week and could join top linebacker Matt Milano on the sideline, though the extended week probably gives White a better than normal chance of playing despite the lack of practice time. Either way, I’ll likely have an update before gametime, but I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick on Buffalo for now.

Final Update: White is out for the Bills, but the Titans won’t be getting any additional players back from the COVID list and this line has dropped to a field goal. I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick, but the Bills should still be the right side.

Buffalo Bills 30 Tennessee Titans 24

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -3

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (2-0) at Minnesota Vikings (0-2)

It’s weird to see the Vikings be this bad on defense, after years of consistently strong defensive play under Mike Zimmer, but it’s not a fluke, as this is just not a talented unit. The Vikings lost a pair of mainstays on the defensive line in Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph and, while they were replaced with Yannick Ngakoue and Michael Pierce, the latter opted out of the season, while the former is basically by himself on a defensive line that is missing Danielle Hunter, who is normally one of the top edge rushers in the league. The Vikings also just lost Anthony Barr from their linebacking corps due to injury, while their cornerbacks are very thin in part due to injury, in part due to lack of talent. Adding to their injury list, nominal top cornerback Mike Hughes is expected to be out this week. 

On offense, it’s tough to know what to make of this team because their week 1 and week 2 performances could not have been more different. In week 1, the offense did the most they could with the limited amount of time their defense allowed them to be on the field, picking up 25 first downs and 4 touchdowns on 49 offensive snaps, to give them a ridiculous 59.18% first down rate, but in week 2, they couldn’t get anything going, finishing with a 27.66% first down rate. Guard Pat Elflein didn’t play in week 2 after playing week 1 and he’ll be out again this week, but it’s unlikely his absence alone caused the big drop off from week 1 to week 2.

Realistically, the Vikings should ultimately be somewhere right in the middle of their past two performances this season. They finished 11th in first down rate last season and, while they lost wide receiver Stefon Diggs this off-season, they do have a healthy Adam Theilen. It’s going to be tough for their offense to keep up with what their defense puts up though, at least until Hunter is back, and especially against tougher competition.

The Titans are 2-0 and, though they haven’t been tested yet, I liked their chances of being a top-10 team coming into the season and, while they’re still missing top cornerback Adoree Jackson and top wide receiver AJ Brown, they’re actually healthier now than they’ve been in their first two games. I have them about 6 points better in my roster rankings than the Vikings right now, suggesting the Titans should be favored by about 3.5-4 points in Minnesota. That doesn’t seem like a lot of line value, with this line sitting at -2.5, but about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. It shouldn’t be too difficult for the Titans to beat the Vikings by a field goal or more, with the Vikings banged up and not having a normal homefield advantage, so they’re worth a bet as favorites of less than a field goal.

Tennessee Titans 26 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0) at Tennessee Titans (1-0)

The Jaguars pulled the biggest upset of week one, winning at home as 8-point underdogs against the Colts. That is likely to prove to be a fluke though, as the Jaguars still have one of the worst rosters in the league and are not going to be able to rely on winning the turnover battle by 2 every week. If Gardner Minshew can take a step forward in his second season in the league, he can lead this team to a few wins like Ryan Fitzpatrick did with the Dolphins last year when they had a similarly untalented roster, but the Dolphins were also blown out a lot last year.

This seems like one of those instances where the Jaguars are likely to be blown out, as the Titans are at home and became a legitimate top-10 team when they signed Jadeveon Clowney, who should play even more in his second game with the Titans. In his debut, the Titans only won by 2 in Denver, but they lost 10 points on makeable kicks, something that is highly unlikely to continue happening every week. 

The Jaguars likely fluke win shifted this line all the week from Tennessee -11 on the early line last week to -7.5 this week and, while some of that is justified due to the Titans missing starting cornerback Malcolm Butler and top receiver AJ Brown (in addition to fellow cornerback Adoree Jackson continuing to be out), I still have this line calculated at Tennessee -10.5 (it wouldn’t have been about -13 with Butler and Brown in the lineup). There’s enough line value with the Titans for them to be worth a small bet this week.

Update: Some 7s have shown up Sunday morning. This bet is worth increasing if you can get that number.

Tennessee Titans 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -7

Confidence: High