It’s forgivable that the Tennessee Titans lost in the snow on the — all together now — frozen tundra of Lambeau Field last Sunday night. It was a tough spot to begin with, made all the more tougher with the weather.
But it was a lost opportunity, as the Titans not only failed to clinch a playoff berth, they also failed to clinch the division after the Indianapolis Colts’ meltdown in the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So it’s on to Week 17, and it may as well be labeled “Playoff Game No. 1” for the Titans, as they head to Houston to take on the 4-11 — though very dangerous — Houston Texans.
The Texans are not rolling over. Deshaun Watson, despite getting knocked around the field last week like a drunken ping pong ball, says he’s suiting up this week and giving it everything he has. And any Texans players who caught J.J. Watt’s postgame presser last week … well, it would certainly seem this is a team that is not going to call it in despite having nothing to play for.
THIS is why we love @JJWatt
📹: Houston Texans pic.twitter.com/lXQzowheFq
— Joe Gleason (@joeagleason) December 27, 2020
Win and they’re in
The math, if the Titans win, is simple: They clinch the division.
The math, if the Titans lose, is less simple: They would clinch the division if the Colts lose to the Jaguars at home (don’t hold your breath). After that? To make the playoffs, the Titans would need either Baltimore to lose to the Bengals (hope you’re still not holding your breath) or the Dolphins to lose to the Bills, who will probably be resting their starters (you’re going to pass out).
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Titans might very well miss the playoffs if they lose this game.
Thankfully, oddsmakers in the Volunteer State like the Titans’ chances of bouncing back this week, installing them as -7.5 across the board at FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM. On the moneyline, the best bang for your buck is at FanDuel, where the Titans are -330 favorites. The over/under is a sky-high 56.5 at DraftKings, 56 at FanDuel, and 55.5 at BetMGM. It is, by two points, the highest over/under in the always-wacky Week 17 version of the NFL.
And the number probably deserves to be that high. These two teams met back on Oct. 18, with the Titans prevailing 42-36 in overtime, highlighted by Derrick Henry running wild on the hapless Texans rush defense. Henry’s final numbers that day were 212 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. But he didn’t hog the spotlight; Ryan Tannehill threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns, with A.J. Brown catching two of the scores and backup tight end Anthony Firkser catching eight balls for 113 yards.
Of course, the Titans defense didn’t exactly come to play that day, with Watson throwing for 335 yards and four scores himself.
And know this: Both defenses have somehow gotten worse in the ensuing weeks.
The Texans give up the seventh most passing yards per game; the Titans give up the fifth most.
The Titans give up the 14th most rushing yards per game; the Texans are second-to-last.
Add it up — the bad defenses, the Titans needing the win, the Texans playing for pride — and this game has shootout potential written all over it.
Titans can win any which way
On the Titans’ side of the ball, this shapes up as another Derrick Henry destruction spot. The Texans couldn’t stop him in Week 7, and they haven’t really stopped anyone since. Heck, they gave up 160 rushing yards to Gio Bernard and Samaje Perine last week, and it’s quite possible Henry could bench press those two men and still have energy for some leg lifts.
Offensive coordinator Arthur Brown would undoubtedly love to see Henry rumble for a few early touchdowns and let the game go from there. But it’s also entirely possible he sees fit to let Tannehill and company do what’s needed.
It would seem clear the Titans are going to score, no matter how angry J.J. Watt is.
The problem, of course, is making sure they score more than a Texans team looking to play spoiler.
Prop it up
On the player prop front, Henry should come in with a rushing yards prop over 100. Anything less seems like a good bet. It will also be interesting to see where Watson’s passing yardage prop comes in; anything lower than 290 also seems tempting on the over.
One thing is for certain when it comes to this game: It means a lot.
The Titans — who have had a roller coaster season — need to put their best foot forward to take this road game and win the AFC South. And their best foot is almost certainly attached to the ankle of Derrick Henry.
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