Bruce Arians once scoffed at the media for suggesting that Jeff Fisher’s St. Louis Rams were a true favorite over his double-digit winners from Arizona. “You got 1 team that’s 11 and 3,” he snarled, “and 1 team that’s always 8 and 8.”
Though the coach was speaking about the Rams, his comments were also taken as a shot at Fisher’s legacy with the Tennessee Titans, where the latter coach’s teams were often 8-8.
Fans learn to cope when an NFL club is always around .500, vying for a Wild Card berth as the Titans are this Sunday in Houston. One problem is that whenever you want a fellow .500 team to lose to a division-leading contender, it seems like a sure thing until you tune-in on Sunday or Monday night and there’s Tom Brady in a baseball cap watching the 2nd string get blown-out by the 1st string of the club your team is chasing.
Might Tennessee benefit from the flip-side of that syndrome this weekend at NRG Stadium? If Houston has little to play for, the Texans might be in the mood to give the Titans a break. Houston can try to tie Kansas City and earn home-field advantage in any potential meeting with the Chiefs – other than that the motivation-edge is completely in Nashville’s corner.
Gamblers have noticed, yanking a near-pick’em opening line to a TD’s edge in favor of the Week 17 visitors.
Who: Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
When: Sunday, December 29th, 4:25 PM EST
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
Lines: TEN (-6) at HOU (+6) / O/U Total: (44)
It has been a successful but bruising season of pigskin in Space City. Houston has won 2 straight and 4-of-5 contests, but 5 of 10 Texans wins this season have been decided by just 3 points or less. The AFC South champions clinched the division in last week’s 23-20 victory over Tampa Bay as a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown by Bradley Roby on Jameis Winston’s maiden pass of the game set the tone.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is having another stellar season. With just 1 more reception this week, he will have snagged the 2nd most receptions all-time for players throughout their first 7 years in the NFL.
The Titans have lost 2 straight after winning 4 in a row, but Tennessee still controls its own Wild Card destiny. What the team can’t control is the hamstring of 25-year-old running back Derrick Henry. The former Alabama star played through the ailment against Houston 2 weeks ago posting just 86 yards on 21 carries, which snapped a stretch of 4 straight 100-yard games. Henry missed last weeks 38-28 loss to the Saints, but reports indicate he will be ready to return to action on Sunday:
Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry has made it very clear he will play Sunday against the Houston Texans with a playoff berth on the line for the Tennessee Titans. “I love football,” Henry said Thursday. “I love playing the game, so I’m definitely ready.’’
The Titans (8-7) downgraded Henry to questionable just before Houston clinched the AFC South with a win last weekend in Tampa Bay, then deactivated Henry in a 38-28 loss to New Orleans a day later. The Titans still ran for 149 yards with a group effort. But Henry just earned his first Pro Bowl berth by running for 1,329 yards this season. Even with being given a game off to rest a sore left hamstring, Henry still ranks third in the NFL in rushing and is tied for third in the league with 13 rushing touchdowns. The Titans are hoping he can help secure the franchise’s second playoff berth in three seasons and second since the 2008 season.
The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner had said he would play even if his leg was hanging off. Asked about sitting out against the Saints, Henry inquired what Vrabel said about it. The coach said after the loss to New Orleans that it was an organizational decision to keep Henry out of the lineup. After hearing the coach’s response, Henry said Thursday, “That’s what it was.’’ Henry’s left hamstring had been bothering him for the past few weeks. He ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns on Dec. 8 in a 42-21 win in Oakland despite obviously being limited by the hamstring. His longest run went for 24 yards with Henry running slower than he can.
On the bright side, the back-to-back losses were certainly not the fault of QB Ryan Tannehill. The former Miami Dolphin threw for 3 more touchdowns last week with 0 interceptions even in the losing effort, and he has now had multiple touchdown passes in 6 straight games. Mike Vrabel made the correct move to make the switch from Marcus Mariota after a 2-6 start, and after getting off to a 6-1 start as the starter, Tannehill is now 6-3 with good passing numbers and 4 rush TDs.
The only question here is whether Tennessee is competent enough to take advantage of a team resting its starters, and with a quality veteran QB at the helm the answer is yes.
Take the Titans to cover (-6) before the line moves further.