The Tennessee Titans have an elite offense and a delete defense.
As in, the defense has a habit of deleting any scoreboard progress the offense will make.
And that is basically what this weekend’s wild card game against the Baltimore Ravens will come down to: Can the Titans offense overcome whatever their defense is going to deal them?
The sportsbooks aren’t sold, with the Titans a +3 home underdog at FanDuel and a +3.5 underdog at DraftKings and BetMGM. Bright spot? That number is down from the +4 opening line. Of course, if the line continues to fall — and gets below that magic number 3 — that would serve as a major signal the sharp money is coming in on the home dogs.
And while “home dogs” is still a thing — 60-47 against the spread in 2020 — it’s not so much true in the playoffs, especially in round 1. In fact, since 2017, the home team is 1-11 against the spread in the first round of the playoffs, and 4-8 overall.
But these historical numbers are almost always more noise than signal, and for the Titans to win this game, they’re going to have to … well, they’re going to have to score more points than the Ravens. And while that may seem pretty darn obvious, it doesn’t make it any less true. The Titans aren’t going to win through defensive heroics; the only path forward is to just put the onslaught on the Ravens.
The sportsbooks don’t necessarily disagree on this point, as the over/under on this 1 p.m. Sunday game is the highest of wild card weekend, coming at 54.5 across the board, exactly where it started the week.
Past as prologue?
Looking at some past performance, these two teams have plenty of recent history. Back in Week 11, the Titans won a 30-24 overtime thriller, with Derrick Henry rumbling 31 yards for a touchdown to end the game. The Titans came back from an 8-point 4th quarter deficit to get the game to OT in the first place, and Ryan Tannehill passed for 259 and two scores, one each to A.J. Brown and Jonnu Smith. Additionally, Corey Davis went for 113 yards and Henry rushed for 133 more. A balanced offensive attack, and a “mere” 24 points allowed to the Ravens.
And, of course, in last year’s divisional round matchup, the Titans, as 10-point underdogs, smashed the Ravens 28-12. In that game, Lamar Jackson of the Ravens passed for 365 yards and ran for another 143. And yet the Ravens only managed 12 points.
This time around, the Titans are facing a Ravens team that is clearly peaking at the right moment. After dropping three straight to the Patriots, Titans, and Steelers, they finished the season on a 5-0 run, beating up on the Cowboys, Browns, Jags, Giants, and Bengals by a combined 186-89 margin. Not exactly a murderers’ row of late-season scheduling, but still: They’re on fire.
And their offense rolls through Jackson, the 2019 MVP, who can single-handedly take over any game. He has weapons as well: Hollywood Brown is part of the late-season surge, Mark Andrews is beastly, and J.K. Dobbins is looking like a 2021 first-round fantasy pick.
To be clear: The Ravens are going to score a lot of points.
Can the Titans keep the pace? Can Derrick Henry continue his Ravens-bashing ways? Can Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown hook up for some big plays? Will the four-headed monster at tight end feast? There are a lot of ways the Titans can move the ball, and the Ravens’ vaunted defense hasn’t been as vaunted this year. Not to mention, they only played seven teams with .500 or better records this year, and the under-.500 club included four games against the NFC East, the aforementioned Jaguars, matchups with the Patriots and Texans, and a pair of games against the Bengals. Again: Murderers’ row it wasn’t.
On the player prop front
Generally speaking, NFL teams don’t get too cute in the playoffs. The players that got them there are leaned on to do their thing.
So on the prop front, overs on Lamar Jackson’s rushing look good right now, with DraftKings pricing it at -112 for over 68.5 yards, a number Jackson has exceeded in four of his last five games. Also, Jackson’s passing yards prop can be safely middled right now, as DraftKings has it at 199.5, while FanDuel has it at 208.5. Also notable: Jackson has exceeded those numbers only five times this year.
Another prop? Henry’s rushing yards, which are set at a robust 120.5 on DraftKings at -112. He has crushed that number three out of his last four games, but only six times overall. Another place to look: first quarter over, if you think this game will shoot out from the jump. Right now, over 10.5 at +114 on DraftKings looks good.
If the sportsbooks are correct, this is going to be the most explosive of the weekend slate of games. This can very well come down to whichever team has the ball last. Perhaps, even, a Music City Miracle Part Deux?