Here we are again, ladies and gentlemen.
For the third straight season, the Tennessee Titans are in a “win-and-in” scenario in Week 17 of the NFL season. They were able to pull it off in 2017 when a Marcus Mariota-led Titans team defeated the Jaguars 15-10 on New Year’s Eve. The Titans weren’t so lucky last season when Blaine Gabbert was called on to start in place of the injured Mariota and the Colts ended their season. They now have a chance to make it back to the playoffs for the second time this decade.
I’ve seen a few Titans’ fans on Twitter and heard a few callers on the Wake Up Zone, Midday 180, and 3HL complain that the Titans can’t seem to lock up a playoff spot before Week 17 and are tired of sweating it out until the very end. Now, a few NFL fan bases have had the luxury over the last couple decades of typically not having to worry about their team’s playoff birth late into the season. The Patriots, Eagles, Colts and Steelers have earned the right for their fans to be surprised when they don’t play deep into January. The Titans, however, are not one of those teams. After nearly a decade of irrelevance, the Titans have, at the very least, been apart of the NFL conversation in December over the last three years. As a Titans’ fan who suffered through the Munchak and Whisenhunt eras, I’m more than happy with meaningful December football games.
Yes, the Titans could possibly still get into the playoffs if they lose Sunday, but putting their destiny in the hands of Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, both of who would have to lose in order for the Titans to make the playoffs, is not an appealing concept. By the time the Titans-Texans game kicks off, the Texans will know whether or not they’re locked into the 4-seed in the AFC playoff picture. If the Chiefs defeat the Chargers, the Texans will be unable to improve their seeding, making their game against the Titans somewhat meaningless for them. Head coach Bill O’Brien has said they plan to play their starters, but DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson, Kenny Stills and Laremy Tunsil are all listed as questionable headed into Sunday’s matchup. It seems O’Brien might make some business decisions regarding his star players, but regardless, the Titans will have to beat a team they recently lost to at home in order to guarantee their spot in the playoffs.
Let’s do this, Titans fans.
Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans (-3.5)
Game Time: 3:25 CT
Location: Houston, Texas (NRG Stadium)
TV Broadcast Crew: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Over/ Under: 45.5
Stat Corner with Matt:
Unfortunately, I’m going to be a bit negative in this week’s Stat Corner. For the fourth game in a row, cornerback Adoree Jackson will be absent due to a foot injury. In the three games that Jackson has missed, the Titans defense has given up 21, 24, and 38 points, along with seven passing touchdowns. Granted, having to face two of the NFL’s best receivers in Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins over the last two weeks hasn’t been ideal, but Jackson’s replacements have done little to inspire confidence.
At the start of the season, the Titans defense was the only reason this team was staying competitive in games. Since Malcolm Butler’s season-ending injury and, more recently, Jackson missing time, this defense has looked vulnerable. According to Sharp Football Stats, in Week’s 14-16 (the three games Jackson has missed), the Titans’ defense ranks 29th in Successful Pass Plays allowed. It’s a small sample size against good wide receivers, but if Bill O’Brien is a man of his word, the Titans will be facing one of those talented receivers again this week. Jackson was playing some of the best football of his career before going down with the foot injury. Not having a guy who’s athleticism allows him to hang with most receivers in the NFL is a real hindrance for this defense, and it’s proven as much in the last few games.
3 Things to Watch:
-Chiefs vs. Chargers: The first thing to watch won’t even be taking place in Houston. Like I said above, if the Chiefs are able to beat the Chargers, they lock themselves into the 3-seed in the AFC, thereby locking the Texans into the 4-seed. The Chiefs are currently nine point favorites over the Chargers at home in Arrowhead. This game kicks off at noon CT, so if the Chiefs have that game in hand at halftime, we may see some mysterious “inactives” for the Texans leading into the game. Long story short, if you’re a Titans fan, you’re also a Chiefs fan on Sunday.
-Tannehill Joining Elite Company: So, Ryan Tannehill has been pretty good this year. In fact, if he stays on his current pace, he’ll join some pretty elite company. In his nine starts this season, Tannehill has completed 70.7 percent of his passes while posting a 9.6 yards per attempt. In NFL history, only two other quarterbacks have had a completion percentage over 70 percent while averaging over nine yards per attempt: Joe Montana and Sammy Baugh. Tannehill could add his name to that list with just an average game on Sunday.
Derek Henry’s Health: It was obvious two weeks ago that Derek Henry was nowhere near 100 percent healthy. That played out last week when Mike Vrabel made the decision to sit Henry in order to try and get him healthy for this Sunday’s game and a possible run in the playoffs. It’s possible for this team to win Sunday’s game without a fully healthy Henry, but the Titans will have a hard time in the playoffs if Henry isn’t able to shake this hamstring injury.
My Prediction: Titans 30, Texans 21
If the Texans do in fact play their starters for the entire game, I think it will be hard for this Titans team to beat them in Houston. But I don’t see that happening. This Titans offense has been one of the elite offenses since Tannehill took over, and I don’t think the Texans offense, littered with backups, will be able to hang with them.