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Ben Gretch is back previewing and predicting Week 16's Thursday Night Football matchup between the Tennessee Titans vs. San Francisco 49ers.
ANALYSIS

Thursday Night Football Week 16 Preview and Prediction: Tennessee Titans vs. San Francisco 49ers

Tennessee Titans vs. San Francisco 49ers Start Time, Where to Watch, and Odds

Date: Thursday, December 16, 2021

Game Time: 8:20 pm ET

Where to Watch: FOX/NFL Network

  • Key Stat: The Titans and 49ers rank 22nd and 23rd in situation-neutral time to snap, per Football Outsiders.

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Tennessee Titans vs. San Francisco 49ers Preview

San Francisco heads to Tennessee for a matchup of two run-first teams that rank first and seventh in total rush attempts and 22nd and 28th in pass attempts this season. The Titans have traditionally liked to play fast, but with the injuries to their offense this season, they’ve started to play at a slower pace, ranking 22nd in situation-neutral time to snap, with the 49ers coming in just behind them in 23rd. As such, both teams limit the plays their opposition runs — the Titans rank 22nd in plays run against their defense, while San Francisco is 30th.

But the 49ers are hot right now, winners of five of their last six. They’ll be without lead running back Elijah Mitchell again in Week 16, but Jeff Wilson filled in admirably last week. At the same time, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel are healthy, and both have been very productive of late, with Samuel providing support to the running game with a ridiculous six rushing touchdowns on 33 carries over his past five games.

In terms of the scheme, few think more in the concept of “players not plays” than Kyle Shanahan’s. The 49ers know how to use motion and deception to manufacture touches for the players they want to have with the ball, and Kittle and Samuel are two of the best in the league at creating after the catch (or in Samuel’s case, carry). Brandon Aiyuk has also found himself back in the flow of the offense after starting the year in the dog house, and he’s an additional piece that can pick up slack if the offense is struggling to get Samuel or Kittle going.

The Titans aren’t so lucky. Julio Jones didn’t make it far into Week 15, as his hamstring acted up, and while he practiced in full Wednesday and doesn’t carry an injury designation, it’s tough to imagine him playing a full slate of snaps. The Titans also opened the practice window on A.J. Brown, and he looks questionable to be activated. Should they have both Jones and Brown, neither projects to be 100 percent and behind him, the Titans have very little else to rely on.

D’Onta Foreman has been a bright spot, running hard over the past couple of weeks. He banged up his ankle last week, limiting him to under 40% of the snaps for the second straight game despite operating as the lead back, but he was able to get two full practices in this week and doesn’t carry an injury designation. Behind Foreman, both Dontrell Hilliard and Jeremy McNichols will mix in as the Titans continue to try to generate a consistent ground game, something they’ve worked on since Derrick Henry’s injury.

But that hasn’t been enough lately. Tennessee has scored 20 or fewer points in four straight games. While Brown would certainly provide a spark to a dormant passing game should he be able to suit up, it’s hard to like the Titans to put up big numbers against a San Francisco defense that ranks second in the NFL in success rate against the run over the past six weeks, and 16th against the pass. This week, the Titans will also be without offensive linemen Taylor Lewan and Roger Saffold.

Tennessee has played good defense of its own, ranking first in success rate against the run and ninth against the pass over the past six weeks. The success of these defenses against the ground game could force either or both offenses to open things up a bit more in this game, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where either team completely abandons the run. This projects as a slower defensive battle with limited play volume, where there are playmakers who could speed things up, but the smart money is on the under. I like San Francisco to win, but it’s tough to lay the points on a road team traveling a long distance on a short week. But the 49ers are the more explosive offense right now, so if travel limits them at all, that’s one more reason to like the under.

Titans vs. 49ers Pick

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Ben knows his football. A fantasy football expert who was most recently seen at CBS Sports, he'll be helping bettors find value ahead in the NFL with OddsChecker.

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