The highs have been high for the Tennessee Titans already this year, with a five-game winning streak to start the season, including gutting out a pair of tough road victories at Mile High and Minnesota, along with a drubbing of the at-the-time-unbeaten Josh Allen and his Buffalo Bills.
But the lows? Yeah, pretty low. Losing to the Steelers at home despite a furious second half comeback? That’s low. The COVID outbreak — and associated fines that came with it? Way lower. Losing to the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday? Not to minimize the COVID outbreak, but come on: That may have been the lowest of the low.
Yeah, sure, the game was in Cincy and yes, of course, the weather wasn’t ideal, but if the Titans are to be taken seriously as a contender for the AFC championship — and right now they’re not being taken all that seriously according to the oddsmakers, with the team anywhere between +1200 and +1600 to win the conference, the sixth best behind the Chiefs, Steelers, Ravens, Colts, and Bills — they’re going to have to turn this two-game losing streak around, especially before an all-important Week 10 showdown with the division-rival Colts.
And so here we are in Week 9, with the Titans coming back home to take on a 5-3 Chicago Bears team that has alternated between being the best bad team and the worst good team in the NFL, and that’s mostly because of their quarterback Nick Foles, who — much like the team — is either the best bad quarterback or the worst good quarterback in the league. Sometimes, he’s both on the same play.
Four books, 5.5 points
While the game on the field will obviously draw a lot of attention, perhaps the bigger news for Tennessee residents is the fact they’ll have the whole week to luxuriate in the beauty that is legalized online sports betting. With four sportsbooks up and running — FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, and the Tennessee-only Action 24/7 — Tennessee residents have the whole week to pore over the lines and figure out just where on the game they’re landing.
The Titans opened at -6.5 point favorites, but that number has already been bet down to -5.5. Right now, the best value for that line can be found at FanDuel, which is offering the number at -106. One caveat here before you dive in: Vegas has thus far been bullish on the Titans in 2020 and — ahem — bearish on the Bears, but it’s not the way things have played out, with the Bears 5-3 against the spread and the Titans 2-5.
Truthfully, the more interesting number may be the over/under, which opened at 46 and has been bumped up to 46.5 across all the sportsbooks. If you’re leaning over, now is the time to pounce before it hits that magical 47 number.
On the moneyline, the Titans range from -239 to -245, and the upset-minded Bears are at +195 to +200.
Breaking down the matchup
Both teams are coming off tough losses: The Bears nearly upended the Saints at home before losing in overtime 26-23, and the Titans went to Cincinnati and were … well, they were embarrassed by rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and a Bengals defense that had previously been — and this is the technical term — terrible. In fact, the 20 points put up by the Titans were the fewest the Bengals have allowed since a Week 1 16-13 loss to the Chargers.
But it wasn’t just the Titans offense, which only scored a single touchdown heading into the fourth quarter, that underwhelmed. The Titans defense — particularly the front seven — was significantly outplayed, allowing the Bengals to hold onto the ball for nearly 36 minutes despite, due to injuries, playing with four new starters on the offensive, including one guy with the clearly made-up name of “Fred Johnson.”
This week, the Titans-Bears game sets up as a matchup of strength against strength and weakness against weakness. The Bears defense is the reason the team is 5-3, and those defensive players will have their hands full trying to keep Derrick Henry contained. Henry, despite the team’s early-season COVID bye, leads the NFL with 775 rushing yards and 161 carries.
And the Titans’ always dangerous Ryan Tannehill-led pass attack will have one of its toughest challenges to date, facing off against a Bears pass defense that is allowing a middling 228 yards per game.
On the other side of the ball, the tranquilized Bears offense — only the Redskins, Giants, and Jets are gaining fewer yards per game — face a solid matchup against the Titans’ burnable secondary. The problem for the Bears here, of course, remains the inconsistent quarterback play of Foles. But Allen Robinson, one of the top wideouts in the game, should be fed early and often. (In fact, it’s probably worth taking a peek at those A-Rob reception and yardage player props when they come out later in the week. He’s somehow averaging 6.2 catches and nearly 79 yards a game thus far in 2020.)
Oh and one other thing: The Titans’ front seven have a chance to redeem themselves, as the Bears offensive line will be missing at least two starters, and probably two more. Maybe this week they can dominate the parade of “Fred Johnsons” the Bears might be forced to trot out.
The Titans are sitting at 5-2, tied for first in the AFC South with the Colts. While this week’s game against the Bears falls short of being a “must-win,” a loss here at home would certainly damage the team’s chances to win the division and, perhaps more importantly, demonstrate a team in the throes of a bit of a crisis.