NFL Odds & Picks For Titans vs. Bengals: Roll with the Road Favorite?
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images. Pictured: Derrick Henry.
After a 5-0 start, the Tennessee Titans suffered their first loss of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7. Despite fighting their way back from a 20-point third quarter deficit, the Titans fell short when Stephen Gostkowski missed a potential game-tying field goal with 19 seconds to play.
The Titans now head on the road for the first time since Sept. 27 to face the 1-5-1 Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off a heartbreaking 37-34 loss to their AFC North rivals in the Cleveland Browns.
Oddsmakers have installed the road team as a 4-point favorite with an over/under of 55 — both lines have seen significant movement as the spread was bet up to 6.5 while the total was bet down to 51. Is there any value left on this game?
Tennessee’s offense has been on fire to start the season: The Titans are fourth in points per game (31.3), third in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA, seventh in total success rate, fifth in early-down success rate and second in red-zone percentage, scoring on a whopping 80% of their drives inside opponents’ 20-yard line.
It’s been rare to see the Titans get off to slow starts, but they were held to only seven points in the first half of last week’s loss to Pittsburgh. Excluding their 16-13 win over the Denver Broncos in Week 1, the Titans have averaged 18 points in the first half of games this season. It’s no coincidence that the two teams to successfully limit the Titans early are the Steelers and Broncos, who both rank top 10 in defensive efficiency.
Ryan Tannehill deserves credit for much of the Titans’ offensive success. He’s second in DVOA, fourth in ESPN’s Total QBR (82.2), fourth in quarterback rating (112.3), seventh in touchdowns (15th) and eighth in completion percentage (68.5%) with just two interceptions this season. He has also spread the ball around to wide receivers A.J Brown, Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, which has made this offense scary.
Derrick Henry has been a workhorse, but he hasn’t been particularly efficient. He’s averaged fewer than four yards per carry in four out if six games this season. Now he’s coming off a game in which he rushed for 75 yards on 20 carries (3.8 yards per carry). Still, the Titans are sixth in rushing success rate. And unlike last week, Henry won’t be facing a Steelers defense that ranks first in rushing success rate, holding teams to 3.4 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Gostkowski continues to be a liability in the kicking game as he’s making a league-worst 62.5% of this field goals. Until last week’s loss, the Titans have been able to overcome Gostkowski’s struggles with how well they’ve performed in the red zone.
Despite the addition to Jadeveon Clowney, the Titans are still dead last in sacks (7) and 27th in pressure rate (19.5%). They’re allowing nearly 401 yards per game to opposing offenses and are 27th and 29th in rushing and passing success rate on defense.
Given their defensive struggles, it was a surprise to see this defense hold the Steelers to just three second-half points last week. It was one of the defense’s best games against the pass as the Titans held Ben Roethlisberger to 268 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and a 67.4 quarterback rating, which could be a sign that this unit is trending upward.
At what point does locker room dysfunction catch up with a team?
After Sunday’s 37-34 loss to the Browns, Carlos Dunlap was seen arguing with coaches then later put his house up for sale on Twitter. He’s since been traded to Seattle for offensive lineman B.J. Finney and a seventh-round pick, but more players have made clear they want out.
Although it didn’t catch up with them in last week’s loss, there’s a lot going against the Bengals in this week’s matchup.
The Bengals were already missing running back Joe Mixon, but they took hits to their offensive line this past Sunday. The losses of Jonah Williams (neck), Trey Hopkins (concussion) and Bobby Hart (knee) are problematic for a unit that has given up a league-high 24 sacks and is 31st in adjusted sack rate (per Football Outsiders). The Bengals are averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and 98.9 rushing yards per game, which is 26th among NFL teams and hurts the Bengals’ ability to take the pressure off Joe Burrow behind a struggling offensive line.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom for the Bengals as Burrow is coming off a 406-yard performance with three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 112.5 quarterback rating. Tyler Boyd caught 11 receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown last week. Even disgruntled star A.J. Green caught seven balls for 82 yards while rookie Tee Higgins had a touchdown and 71 yards on five catches.
While the Bengals have some things to be excited about, this offense is still just 28th in DVOA, 22nd in early-down success rate and dead-last in explosive passing and run rate as they have the lowest percentage of plays that go for 20 or more yards. They’re also converting only 38.78% of third downs and scoring on just 50% of their trips inside the red zone, ranking 25th and 28th, respectively.
The Bengals defense is 30th in explosive run rate, allowing 17% of runs to go for 20 or more yards while giving up 4.9 yards per carry and 133.7 yards per game (28th), which doesn’t bode well against a Henry-led rushing attack. The Bengals haven’t faired much better against the pass, allowing 7.0 yards per play through the air. They’re also 30th in explosive pass play rate, allowing 12% of passes to go for 20 or more yards.
This game will be decided by how much the Bengals can keep up with the Titans offense. While the Titans are converting 80% of their drives inside their opponents’ 20-yard line, the Bengals are scoring on just 50% of their trips — even if they can overcome their locker room and offensive line issues, will it even matter if they’re trading touchdowns for field goals?
Road teams have done particularly well this season as they’re 58-46 (55.7%) against the spread. If we get more granular, road teams that have had the number move in their direction are 33-18 (65%) this season. The Titans opened as 4-point favorites and the line was swiftly bet up to -6.5, but I still think this line is short and will be laying the points in a prime bounce back spot for the Titans after suffering their first loss of 2020.
I would recommend betting this before the line rises further — I would only bet it up to 6.5. I would also recommend adding the Titans to 6-point teasers along with the Packers or Raiders.
Pick: Titans -6.5