One, both, neither.
Tonight, after the Tennessee Titans host the Indianapolis Colts, we are going to be able to better determine if these teams are elite squads or just a pair of teams hoping to make the playoffs with little chance of surviving the American Football Conference postseason.
The Titans made the playoffs last year and had the eventual Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs down after the first half of the AFC Championship Game. Then, like all three of the Chiefs postseason opponents last season, faded down the stretch. Is that a pattern that perhaps this year’s Titans team is going to follow during the regular season? Start strong and then fade?
We have some indicators that this is a real possibility. First, based on last year’s mid-season run from the middle of the pack to a conference championship game is often a precursor to a down year the following season. This is because a team that makes a furious run one year down the stretch of a season after no better than a 50/50 start through the first half of a campaign, often has expectations exceeding their actual talent level.
The organization relies that their late season run is a more accurate gauge for their real team strength than the team that won as many games as they lost through the first half of a season. But, and this gives rise to the Titans hopes for 2020, their run last year was also sparked by a change at quarterback.
It was Marcus Mariota who lost four of the season’s first six games for the Titans to open the 2019 season. When he was chosen with the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, the Titans thought they were getting their franchise quarterback. Instead, that slot seems to be filled by the player they got with a seemingly unspectacular trade they made with the Miami Dolphins. Before the 2019 campaign, the Titans picked up Ryan Tannehill, who Miami had given up on after seven years of work in their backfield, for a fourth and seventh round draft pick.
After a Week Six shutout loss to the Denver Broncos last session, Tennessee Head Coach Mike Vrabel inserted Tannehill and … instant success. Tannehill won seven of his ten regular season starts to guide the Titans into the playoffs, and two of three postseason games.
You can now see why Tennessee came into this season with hopes as high as the crowd celebrating the election results last week in front of the White House.
But, while the Titans relished their chances this season, my numbers indicate deep concern. And while the Titans come into this game leading the AFC South Division with a 6-2 mark, and were one of the final three teams to be knocked from the unbeaten ranks, their point spread record does not indicate an elite team. While winning their first three games against the Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings, they dropped the point spread decision in all three of those contests. They come into action tonight with a losing record against the line, three wins and five losses.
Now, they need to win this game to hold onto first place in the AFC South Division, while a victory by Indianapolis in this one would equal the teams with 6-3 marks and give the edge to Philip Rivers and company with a victory in the first of two head-to-head battles. The Colts and Titans meet again in two weeks at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts three losses include a still unexplainable opening day setback in Jacksonville to the Jaguars, to date that remains the lone win for Doug Marrone’s squad. The other two Indianapolis setbacks were suffered in Cleveland during Week Five action and last Sunday at home against the Baltimore Ravens.
So, before the results are in from tonight’s game, I’m going to offer you a long term prediction. I think this season is going to go a lot like last year … except the team that catches fire from mid-season on and is heard from in the playoffs is not the Titans, but the Colts.
If I’m right, and I’m betting I am, then that run begins tonight with a road Indianapolis win.
Qoxhi Picks: Indianapolis Colts (-1) over Tennessee Titans