Chess is among my favorite parallels to gridiron tactics, and it’s not so much a similarity in game-play – as much as they might like to, NFL coaches cannot simply pluck opposing “pieces” off the field – but rather to how whatever seems simple in football becomes complicated in a hurry. A triple-option gadget play might take 2 minutes to draw on a chalkboard but a lifetime of instruction and training and on-field improvisation to become a great weapon.
YouTube’s endless variety of chess-tactics videos are frustrating for that reason. The commentator spends 5 minutes describing why a player chose “Pawn f4” as an opening move when there are still more potential moves to make in the game than atoms in the galaxy. It feels like it ought to get simpler from there. And the initial exchange is pretty simple. Then before you know it – whoa – things get waaaaay too complicated.
At least in pro pigskin, some of the chess pieces are larger and more-talented than others. That helps to sort things out. But consider what seems like a simple handicapping angle for Sunday’s Jaguars-at-Titans AFC clash. With the point spread having broadened beyond a field goal, a system-user’s wager might be to gamble against the public and take the underdog Jaguars to cover, knowing that if Tennessee does win, there’s a nice chance it will be by 3 points exactly.
Let’s compare the kickers and get to it, eh? Nope. You’ve also got to consider Jacksonville’s poor rush defense, which could give Tennessee a natural advantage in the Red Zone and make any field-goal this, field-goal-miss types of angles into a moot point as the Titans win on touchdowns.
Who: Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
When: Sunday, November 24th, 4:05 PM EST
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
Lines: JAX (+3.5) / TENN (-3.5) / O/U Total: (41.5)
We shouldn’t ho-hum this match-up due to the clubs’ records. The Jags are 4-6 and the Titans are level par, but everything in the AFC’s mid-card is still up for grabs, and each team will have a chance at the postseason no matter how Week 12’s scrum turns out.
“Minshew Mania” was quieted last week as Super Bowl-winning QB Nick Foles returned from injury and reclaimed his starting spot. Foles was forced to chuck it around early and often as the Jaguars were pounded 33-13 by the Colts, and while he appeared very much in sync with WR D.J. Chark, the rest of the offense sputtered. Chark was targeted 15 times by Foles and posted an 8-104-2 stat line, bringing his impressive TD total on the season to 8.
It’s tough (in more ways than 1) to get blown-out when your quarterback is making stars out of receivers. Doug Marrone will likely stress getting RB Leonard Fournette more involved in the system, as the workhorse back was given just 8 carries last week.
Considering the fact that it was just 10-7 at the half before the Colts blew the game open, Jacksonville play-callers’ under-utilization of Fournette is indeed a bad look.
Jacksonville has struggled to stop opposing teams since the trade of star CB Jalen Ramsey to the Rams, but there are still some bright spots. Pass-rush is a healthy metric, and Josh Allen’s team-leading 8 sacks serve as a great confidence-boost for a rookie flanked by veteran stud Calais Campbell. The defense is just bad against the run much of the time, something that could help the hosts maintain momentum given the transition from a scrambling QB to a pocket-passer.
The Titans’ 5-5 record reflects some uncertainty on offense. Ryan Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota during a Week 6 loss at Denver, and Mike Vrabel has stuck with the move ever since. The former Dolphin has gone 3-1 as a starter compared to Mariota’s 2-4 record. Tannehill is completing 71.3% of his passes compared to the 59.1% completion percentage Mariota posted, and his QBR of 104.4 is nearly 15 points higher. But the new starter has always had a reputation for low-velocity deep balls and a lack of elite play-making skills.
I’ve been trained to value NFL QBs with soft touches, though much depends on how the team plays around them.
The heart of the country is warming up and will be mild by Sunday afternoon, though what will still feel chilly to the Florida team will be like a spring bloom for the Nashville charges. When a .500 team has won a few recent games a city will get behind it, and the home-field factor should be worth more than a field goal to Tennessee.
Meanwhile, improved blocking should indeed provide Red Zone success and a lack of turnovers. Jacksonville’s defense could be terrific if only the edge-rush was more dynamic – Calais Campbell is not the type of player to lead a porous run defense and must be frustrated with his colleagues’ finesse-rushing form. Speedy QB sacks are cool to watch and dangerous for O/U gamblers. But the Titans are hungry for opponents they can move the sticks on.
Take Tennessee to cover (-3.5).