Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM
TNF - Jaguars at Titans
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Jacksonville at Tennessee (-4.5, 37.5), 8:20 pm ET, FOX/NFLN
Jacksonville’s defense has the potential to make Blake Bortles look awful by helping pull off a second straight divisional upset as their demoted former starter again watches from the sideline. Cody Kessler benefited as the team’s strongest unit did the heavy lifting in a 6-0 win over the Colts that replaced the Titans-Jags Week 3 meeting as the lowest-scoring game of the season.
Andrew Luck underwent an on-field root canal in dealing with Jacksonville’s pressure up front and the excellence of a rejuvenated defensive backfield, throwing for 248 yards and getting intercepted once in being shutout.
With corner A.J. Bouye back to help a healthier Jalen Ramsey and impressive D.J. Hayden, the Jaguars again boast one of the league’s strongest defensive backfields. Up front, they’ll have to replace starting nose tackle Abry Jones off the unit that blanked the Colts but are still well-equipped to make life difficult for Tennessee. For more on who is in and out, read the injury report below.
Since the best the Jaguars can finish is 8-8, all success they have from this point on won’t affect their playoff chances but will certainly have a toll on the postseason picture. After snapping their seven-game losing streak by ending Indy’s five-game unbeaten run, the Jags now take aim at playing spoiler against Tennessee, which is one of four teams on the outside looking in of the AFC’s top-six, trailing the Ravens by a game.
Jacksonville will now try and snap a winless run of four games in Nashville and a 2-12 run against AFC South Division foes.
The Titans got back to .500 against the Jets on Sunday, but only barely. Despite facing veteran backup QB Josh McCown and a banged-up New York squad that hadn’t won since mid-October, Tennessee needed Marcus Mariota to find Corey Davis with 36 seconds left to cap a comeback from a 22-13 fourth-quarter deficit.
Mariota has shown a knack for saving his best for last but contributed greatly to digging last week’s hole by throwing a pick-six. He led the Titans in rushing and threw for 286 yards to wrap up his 12th career game-winning drive, which does inspire confidence since style points won’t matter against Jacksonville. The Titans have won five of six over the Jags (see series history below) and have found ways to overcome Bortles and a defense that has been among the NFL’s best in low-scoring games and shootouts no matter who the coaches have been, so Doug Marrone will have his work cut out for him on the road with a team that has won only one true road game all season, beating the Giants 20-15 in Week 1.
The Titans are 4-1 in Nashville and own conquests of the Texans, Eagles and Patriots, so they perform in front of the paying customers. They’ll have to deal with nemesis Leonard Fournette, who returns from a one-game suspension and may be the healthiest he’s been all season since he’s been bothered by injuries most of the way.
Being unable to count on him early forced Jacksonville to trade for Carlos Hyde, who is also available alongside T.J. Yeldon. Kessler comes into this one averaging 153 passing yards in his two appearances, so count on the run game being the staple of the Jags’ attack. His longest completion spans 23 yards, so it’s likely you’ll see a run defense that ranks 19th against the ground game and has been the weak link in that unit tested exhaustively.
Count on the Titans challenging Kessler to make plays in the red zone since first-year head coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have been especially stingy inside the 20-yard line, holding opponents to the lowest touchdown rate in the NFL (44.1 percent).
Fournette has run for 95 yards in each of his last two games, finding the end zone three times in losses to the Steelers and Bills before his one-game suspension. He wasn’t in the lineup in Week 3 and ran for just 109 yards on 33 carries in last season’s losses, scoring once. Getting him going in addition to another strong defensive outing is the ideal formula for the Jags to pull this offense.
Tennessee’s current schedule isn’t daunting, so it has an opportunity to run the table if it can keep the ball rolling by picking up where it left off in Sunday’s fourth quarter. The Titans’ lone road remaining game will be Dec. 16 vs. the Giants and their final contests will come at home against the Redskins and Colts, who each enter Week 14 at 6-6 on the heels of brutal offensive showings.
That would seem to play right into Tennessee’s wheelhouse, but a running game that was non-existent last week must emerge and Mariota has to stay healthy. Per Titans Online expert Jim Wyatt, the former No. 2 pick has gone 128-for-174, throwing for 1,656 yards, eight TDs and five interceptions in his six previous primetime games, so we’ll see if he’s up to this latest challenge. The offensive line in front of him was reshuffled on the run against the Jets as Corey Levin came into play center, so we’ll see if that change remains in place and guard Quinton Spain in relegated to a backup role.
Jacksonville also made changes in addition to the high-profile one where Bortles was left stuck holding a clipboard, starting Patrick Omameh at guard up front notorious former Giants flop Ereck Flowers started at tackle for Josh Walker. Ronnie Harrison started at safety ahead of Barry Church while Marcell Dareus moved inside, so there will again likely be some in-game variables.
As far as the elements go, snow fell in Nashville on Wednesday but we should see clear conditions and temperatures in the high 30s for this Thursday night clash.
Season win total: 9 (Over -130, Under +110)
Odds to win AFC South: OFF to OFF
Odds to win AFC: 2000/1 to 900/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 5000/1 to 2000/1
Season win total: 8 (Over -110, Under -110)
Odds to win AFC South: 25/1 to OFF
Odds to win AFC: 90/1 to 90/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 200/1 to 200/1
Those who faded the Jaguars to open the season are already planning what to do with their winnings. Jacksonville can no longer reach its projected season win total and will pay out +140 at Westgate by not making the postseason. The Titans are still alive to go over on wins and reach the playoffs at +145, so those who went 'no' on them playing on in January at -170 are hoping for help from the Jags here since a Tennessee loss and Houston weekend win would give the Texans the AFC South.
When the season began, Jacksonville was a 7/4 favorite to win the division, so its flop is very real. The Texans were 2/1, Tennessee was 7/2 and the Colts brought up the rear in terms of expectations at 4/1. The Texans moved from 1/10 entering Week 13 to that future coming off the board altogether as a foregone conclusion. The Jags do still have life, but placing anything on them from a futures standpoint is flushing cash down the toilet. The Titans' odds didn't budge after they survived the Jets.
As far as this matchup is concerned, the Titans were a 6.5-point favorite when the Westgate's early numbers were announced last week so the Jags' impressive shutout of the Colts altered things. Westgate opened at -5 but quickly came down to 4.5, which is where most shops opened and where it currently is available in many places. Tennessee -4 was available most of the week, but there is now a lot of -5 out there.
Tennessee is in the -225/-230 range on the money line. If you like the road 'dog outright, a payout on the Jags win will get you +190 to +200 depending on where you wager.
Jacksonville's biggest absence with Fournette available again is the aforementioned Jones, who hasn't practiced due to a shin injury and will force more reshuffling from the Jags on the defensive front. DE Calais Campbell did overcome an ankle injury and has been cleared, while Ramsey (knee) is also off the injury repot. Jacksonville backup corners Tre Herndon and Quenton Meeks will join LB Lerentee McCray in the mix, so the Jags have plenty of ammo on that side of the ball.
The Titans will be without safety Dane Cruikshank and RB David Flueleen due to knee injuries but should be fine without both. Key safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Kevin Byard, DT Jaurrell Casey, corners Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler and WR Tajae Sharpe are all good to go. Pass-rusher Derrick Morgan is listed as questionable.
The ‘over/under’ for this matchup opened at 38 and most betting shops are holding a number of 37 ½ as of Thursday morning. Weekly “Total Talk” writer Chris David of VegasInsider.com offered up his thoughts on this matchup:
It’s rare to see totals close in the thirties in the NFL these days and this will be the ninth total that will be in this neighborhood this season and the ‘over’ has gone 5-3 in the first eight totals that closed below 40.
One of those ‘under’ winners came between this pair as the Titans defeated the Jaguars 9-6 on Sept. 23 and the low side (39 ½) was never in doubt. This was a game dominated by the defensive units as neither offense could move the football and the pair combined for 465 total yards.
Normally I would use a vice versa handicap and lean to the high side based off the low-scoring result in the first meeting but it’s a tough argument to make. Especially with Cody Kessler under center for Jacksonville. While he wasn’t horrible last week against the Colts, expecting him to move the chains or make big plays seems like a long shot against a Titans scoring defense (18.6 PPG) that has been solid at home.
Even though Tennessee and Jacksonville both enter this game with 7-5 ‘under’ records, two of the last three meetings in Nashville have gone ‘over’ the number. One of those outcomes occurred in a Thursday contest (2016) as Tennessee ran past Jacksonville 36-22 and the ‘over’ (43 ½) connected. Including that outcome, the Titans have watched the ‘over’ cash in their last five primetime games and that includes two results this season (both on MNF).
Road underdogs haven’t played well in the midweek matchup this season but I’m expecting a competitive game. If my lean is right that the Jaguars can hang around, then it has to be a low-scoring affair. Instead of leaning to the game total, I believe the better play is the Tennessee team total under (21 ½) on Thursday.
RECENT MEETINGS (Tennessee 5-1 SU, 5-1 ATS last six; OVER 4-2)
9/23/18 Tennessee 9-6 at Jacksonville (TEN +10, 39)
12/31/17 Tennessee 15-10 vs. Jacksonville (TEN -2.5, 40)
9/17/17 Tennessee 37-16 at Jacksonville (TEN -1, 42)
12/24/16 Jacksonville 38-17 vs. Tennessee (JAX +4, 44)
10/27/16 Tennessee 36-22 vs. Jacksonville (TEN -3, 43.5)
12/6/15 Tennessee 42-39 vs. Jacksonville (TEN -2.5, 43.5)
NEXT WEEK'S NUMBERS POSTED
Westgate Vegas opens its advance lines for the following week on Tuesdays and Week 15 currently has the Titans listed as an 1.5-point road favorite at the Giants. The Jaguars will be back home in another spoiler role as they host the Mark Sanchez-led 'Skins and are an early 6.5-point favorite.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA