The Colts' defense has allowed the fifth-lowest success rate against the run.
Thursday night brings the first of two matchups over three weeks between the 6-2 Titans and 5-3 Colts, a pair of games that could go a long way toward determining the winner of the AFC South. This one will take place in Tennessee, but after the Titans opened as 1.5-point favorites, the line has shifted to the other side with the Colts now favored by a point on the road.
That could be read in part as a reaction to Tennessee’s poor performance in Chicago, where they got away with a 24-17 victory despite generating just 228 yards from scrimmage. That was the second poor performance for Tennessee’s offense in three weeks since left tackle Taylor Lewan was lost for the season, and their best offensive yardage output in that span came in a 31-20 loss at Cincinnati. They’ve failed to throw for even 225 net passing yards in any of those three games, but ran for over 200 yards against the Bengals.
The Titans’ recent struggles generating a significant passing attack without their top offensive tackle are concerning given the Colts’ defense more closely resembles the Steelers and Bears, both of whom the Titans failed to hit 300 yards of offense against, than the Bengals. Anchored by one of the game’s premier interior defenders, DeForest Buckner, the Colts have allowed the fifth-lowest success rate against opposing rushing attacks. Their pass defense has been equally difficult for opponents, yielding the 10th-lowest success rate. Indianapolis is currently rated third in Football-Outsiders’ defensive DVOA, one spot behind the Steelers and one ahead of the Bears, so the Titans’ recent struggles against those units suggest another poor offensive performance could be in store.
The Titans’ defense is far less menacing, particularly in the passing game where they are allowing the league’s fourth-highest success rate. Of course, Philip Rivers’ best days are behind him, and whether he’ll be able to consistently take advantage is an open question. Tennessee is still susceptible to the run, though, and the Colts like to take the air out of the ball and pound the rock when they are in control of a game.
I’m not writing off Tennessee here, though. Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith have impressed over the past couple of seasons, and they know how important this home game is in the divisional race. A loss here would bring the Titans and Colts even in the division with the Colts hosting the rematch in a couple of weeks. Tennessee needs this game, and I’m expecting Smith to pull out all the stops with some creative offensive play calls he hasn’t put on tape before.
I’m taking the under in this one. Both teams think of themselves as run-first offenses, and the Titans’ recent struggles passing make it likely they’ll give Derrick Henry plenty of chances to pound away at the good Colts’ rush defense in hopes of wearing them down. The Colts will also attack on the ground, particularly if they lead, so the clock should be moving. I could see this game playing out a number of ways, and it’ll be a fun one between two teams that fancy themselves contenders. But I think the most likely outcome is a competitive game with perhaps a few big plays, but not enough to get over the 48.5 number.
NFL Expert Picks
Under 48.5 @ -110
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We're over the halfway point now as we enter Week 10 of this wild NFL season. The New England Patriots welcome the Baltimore Ravens to town on primetime this Sunday, and the following night we see the Vikings at the Bears. We see some big divisional games this week including the Seahawks and Rams. We also see two young rookies clash as Justin Herbert's Chargers travel to Miami to face Tua and the Dolphins.
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