Tennessee Titans at Oakland Raiders: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (7-5) at Oakland Raiders (6-6)

The Titans saved their season by benching Marcus Mariota for veteran Ryan Tannehill after week 6. After finishing last season 24th in first down rate at 34.12% and ranking 26th at 32.69% through 6 games this season, the Titans have had a 40.76% first down rate in 6 games with Tannehill under center, 2nd best in the NFL over that time period, only behind the Ravens. During that stretch, the Titans have lost just once and even in that game they won the first down rate battle, losing by 10 to the Panthers in a game in which they missed 3 field goals and lost the turnover battle by 2. The Titans probably won’t continue being the 2nd best offense in the league the rest of the way, but they have a strong supporting cast around the quarterback on both sides of the ball and don’t need elite quarterback play to be competitive. 

This week, the Titans face a 6-6 Raiders team that has played nearly as well as their record suggests. While all 6 of their wins have come by 8 points or fewer, all but one of their losses has come by at least 18 points, with the one exception being a 3-point loss in Houston in which they lost the first down rate battle by 9.28%, but managed to score from 46 and 65 yards out. They rank 27th in point differential at -87, 29th in first down rate differential at -5.56%, and they have been even worse in recent weeks. 

Dating back to week 7, the Raiders rank dead last in the NFL in first down rate differential at -8.32%, more than 12% worse than the Titans over that span. The Raiders’ record is a farce and the Tannehill led Titans should be able to beat them pretty easily, even in Oakland. I have this line calculated at Tennessee -7, so we’re getting good line value with them as only favorites of a field goal. It’s concerning that the Titans are missing top cornerback Adoree Jackson, but they haven’t been healthy on defense for most of the season and the Raiders will be without talented right tackle Trent Brown, so that sort of evens out. I like the Titans a lot this week.

Tennessee Titans 31 Oakland Raiders 23

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3

Confidence: High

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

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

The Titans have been significantly better offensively since switching quarterbacks from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill before their week 7 game. Through their first 6 games of the season with Mariota under center, the Titans had a 32.69% first down rate that ranked 26th in the NFL. In 5 games since switching to Tannehill, the Titans have a 42.76% first down rate that is only behind the seemingly unstoppable Ravens over that time period. This offense probably won’t be the second best in the league over the rest of the season, but Tannehill is a capable starting quarterback and they have a good supporting cast around him, so they don’t need great play from him to be a tough opponent. 

They’re especially strong on defense, finishing last season 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% and they rank 9th this season at 33.88%, despite key players like Jurrell Casey (2 games), Jeffery Simmons (6 games), and Jayon Brown (2 games) having missed time with injury. All three players have since returned. Relatively healthy overall, the Titans rank 9th in my roster rankings and could easily end up playing their way into a playoff spot in the unsettled and underwhelming AFC.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Titans in the past week, as a result of their blowout victory over the Jaguars last week. Underdogs of 3.5 points a week ago on the early line in this matchup with the Colts in Indianapolis, the Titans are just 1.5-point underdogs this week. I have the Titans as the better team in this matchup, but the Colts are no pushover, entering this game 11th in first down rate differential at +2.03% and 12th in my roster rankings. I have this line calculated at even, so we’re still getting a little bit of line value with the underdog, but not enough for this game to be worth betting.

Tennessee Titans 26 Indianapolis Colts 24 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +1.5

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) at Tennessee Titans (4-5)

When Pat Mahomes went down in severe pain during the Chiefs’ Thursday Night Football game against the Broncos a few weeks ago, it looked like the Chiefs’ season might be over. Instead, Mahomes only missed about two and a half games, the Chiefs only lost once in his absence, and now Mahomes returns to a team that is 6-3 and still very much in the mix for a first round bye in the AFC. 

The Chiefs may have treaded water without Mahomes, but his return is undoubtedly a major boost for this team. In 32 drives in place of Mahomes, backup Matt Moore led this offense to 44 first downs and 6 offensive touchdowns on 154 plays, a 32.47% first down rate. That’s down significantly from the 44.96% first down rate the Chiefs have had in the 22 games Mahomes has started and finished over the past two seasons.

The reason the Chiefs were able to stay afloat without Mahomes is that their defense stepped up, allowing a 31.44% first down rate over the past 3 games, after allowing a 41.85% first down rate in the 22 games Mahomes started and finished over the past couple seasons. Has this defense finally turned a corner? It’s possible, but there were no major changes on this defense, so I’m skeptical they are for real based off of just three games. More likely, the Chiefs’ defense was just playing extra hard for a short stretch while their quarterback was out. Now with Mahomes back, they may not be able to maintain that level of effort. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this whole team relax a little bit with their MVP franchise quarterback back.

If that happens, the Titans could easily catch this Chiefs’ team off guard at home in Nashville. The Titans led the league with nine games against eventual playoff opponents in 2018 and won four of them, including multi-touchdown wins over the Cowboys and Patriots. Despite the tough schedule, the Titans finished last season at 9-7, falling just short of qualifying for the post-season. This season, they have started 4-5, but they’ve been better than their record suggests.

They have a positive point differential at +5 and, while they have benefitted from the turnover margin (+5, 6th in the NFL), which tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, they have also missed a league leading 8 field goals, which is effectively 8 turnovers, as not only do you lose out on the 3 points, but the opposing team gets the ball at the spot of the miss. The Titans first down rate differential (13th, +1.47% in the NFL) is very similar to last season’s (14th, +1.35% in the NFL), but they’ve fallen to a 46.7% field goal percentage from 86.7%. 

Normal kicker Ryan Succop returned last week from injury and, while he went 0-3 in his season debut, he was an 86.6% field goal kicker for the Titans over the previous 5 seasons and may have just needed a game to shake off the rust. His poor performance was a big part of the reason why the Titans couldn’t pull the upset in Carolina in a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 3.95% but lost by 10.

Even though the Titans have a good chance to catch the Chiefs off guard and possibly pull the upset, they’re still 6-point home underdogs. I have the Chiefs at -1, so we’re getting significant line value with the host. The odds makers (and the public) seem to forget that the Chiefs lost at home to the Colts and Texans and nearly lost in Detroit even with Mahomes under center. Unless the Chiefs’ defense can keep up their recent intensity, this should be a close game. The Titans are my Pick of the Week.

Tennessee Titans 24 Kansas City Chiefs 23 Upset Pick +225

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +6

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Tennessee Titans at Carolina Panthers: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (4-3)

Prior to last week’s loss, the Panthers were undefeated with backup quarterback Kyle Allen under center and could have arguably been undefeated on the season had they started Allen to begin the season instead of a very injured Cam Newton, who started 2 games that were lost by a combined 9 points. However, a couple of their victories also could have gone the other way and they were embarrassed in their loss last week, losing 51-13 in San Francisco. 

On the season, they rank just 22nd in first down rate differential at -2.41% after that loss. The 49ers are arguably the best team in the NFL, but that was still a humiliating defeat for a team that considered itself in contention, and even before that loss to San Francisco, the Panthers ranked just 13th in first down rate differential at +1.71%. Allen is seemingly regressing weekly and overall he ranks 5th worst in yards per attempt (6.66) among qualifying quarterbacks. 

The Titans are also starting a backup quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, but he’s playing at a higher level (73.1% completion, 8.32 YPA) and is a much more experienced player. He’s not a great starter, but the Titans have a strong roster overall and don’t need much more than competent quarterback play from him. Even with underwhelming quarterback play, the Titans went 9-7 last season, despite facing a league high 9 playoff teams (4-5).

Their defense ranked 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% in 2018 and that has carried into this season, as they rank 5th at 32.68%. If Tannehill can continue playing competently, they should be a tough team going forward. Even with Mariota starting the first 6 games of the season, the Titans rank 13th in first down rate at +1.14%, significantly better than the Panthers, who rank 22nd. That’s consistent with my roster rankings, which have the Titans 11th and the Panthers 18th. 

I have this line calculated at even, so we’re getting good line value with the Titans at +3.5, with about 1 in 4 games decided by 3 points or fewer. They’d probably be my Pick of the Week if they had defensive lineman Jurrell Casey healthy, but the Titans are deep at that position with DaQuon Jones and Jeffrey Simmons, a first round rookie who has played well in his first 2 games back from a torn ACL, so losing Casey isn’t as big of a deal as it could have been. The Titans also will have cornerback Adoree Jackson, edge rusher Cameron Wake, and middle linebacker Jayon Brown, who’ve all missed time previously this season. I still like the Titans a lot as long as this line is higher than a field goal.

Tennessee Titans 20 Carolina Panthers 19 Upset Pick +165

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: High

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (3-4)

It’s only one game, but I was impressed with the Titans’ offense in Ryan Tannehill’s first start last week, as they had a 40.98% first down rate for the game, compared to 32.69% in their first 6 games of the season and a 34.12% rate down rate in 2018. Tannehill isn’t great, but he really only needs to be a serviceable starter for this team to be competitive. The Titans went 6-2 in 2018 with double digit wins over the Cowboys and Patriots during the one 8-game stretch where Marcus Mariota was healthy and they went 9-7 overall despite Mariota limited with injuries and despite playing 9 eventual playoff teams (4-5). This year, they are just 3-4, but they have a +9 point differential, best among teams with a losing record, despite missing 5 field goals (second most in the NFL), and they rank 14th in first down rate differential at +1.24%.

They are led by a defense that ranks 5th in first down rate allowed and ranked 4th in that metric last season, so as long as Tannehill and the offense are serviceable, this team could go on a surprise run. Despite that, they are only 2.5-point home favorites here against the Buccaneers, suggesting the Buccaneers are the slightly better team. I have it the other way around, as the Buccaneers rank 16th in first down rate differential at +0.03% and 19th in my roster rankings, while the Titans rank 14th and 12th respectively. We’re not getting a ton of line value with the Titans, but they’re worth a bet as long as this line is under a field goal.

Tennessee Titans 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Tennessee Titans: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-4)

Going into the season, part of the reason why I liked the Titans was because they added Ryan Tannehill as a backup quarterback in the off-season, in case Marcus Mariota got hurt or struggled again. After Mariota led the Titans to a shutout in Denver last week, Tannehill is now under center for Tennessee. Tannehill is not a great quarterback, but he’s an experienced starter and is still arguably one of the top-32 quarterbacks in the league, so he’s a big upgrade over the kinds of backup quarterbacks they’ve had in the past. 

The Titans don’t need a great passing game to win either. Last year, led by a defense that ranked 4th in first down rate allowed, they went 9-7 despite Mariota struggling through injuries for much of the year and they went 4-5 in their league leading 9 games against playoff qualifiers. They had an 8-game stretch after the bye last season where Mariota was healthy and they went 6-2, including multi-touchdown wins over the Cowboys and Patriots. 

This year, they are just 2-4, but they rank 4th in first down rate allowed and 12th in first down rate differential, as much as their offense has struggled. Even with last week’s shutout loss in Denver, the Titans still have a +6 point differential, best among teams with a losing record, and that’s despite having a game in which they missed 4 field goals in a 7-point loss. If Tannehill can even be a little bit of an upgrade over a struggling Mariota, this could be a really competitive football team going forward, despite their underwhelming record.

The Chargers are actually the other team with a losing record and a positive point differential, at +2, but that’s in large part due to the fact that they’ve faced the Dolphins, who they beat by 20 points. Their only other victory came in overtime against the Colts in a game they would have lost if the Colts hadn’t missed multiple makeable kicks. Having already matched their loss total from 2018, the Chargers are clearly not the same team without left tackle Russell Okung, defensive end Melvin Ingram, center Mike Pouncey, and most importantly safety Derwin James. We’re not getting much value betting against them any more, but this line at Tennessee -2 suggests the Chargers are slightly better and I have that the other way around, so the Titans are worth a bet this week. If Okung, who could make his season debut after returning to practice this week, does not play, I will consider increasing this bet. 

Tennessee Titans 23 Los Angeles Chargers 19

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -2

Confidence: Medium