8:15 PM EST, Prime Video – Line: Packers -3, Over/Under: 41.5
Week Eleven kicks off with a trip to legendary Lambeau Field, where the Green Bay Packers hope that they’ve finally turned things around following last weekend’s rally, while the Tennessee Titans look to widen their sizable lead within the AFC South. Is there a more commonly overlooked team in the NFL than the Titans (6-3, 1st in AFC South), who look to be quietly marching their way to a third consecutive division crown? Indeed, for a team that owned the best record in the AFC a year ago, there simply isn’t enough discussion about the league’s most successful under-the-radar franchise. So, why isn’t more attention paid to the Tennessee, you ask? Perhaps it’s because they play in one of the NFL’s smallest markets. Maybe it’s due to their reign over what has long been one of the weakest divisions in the league. Then again, their lack of attention could be due to the fact that often play to the level of their competition, thanks in large part to employing a throwback brand of football. And at the end of the day, that’s the perfect way to describe (Head Coach) Mike Vrabel’s troops: they do what it takes to win, no more and no less. Indeed, this is one of those rare teams that is above .500 despite being outscored over the totality of their games played. So, let’s start on the offensive side of things, shall we? Not to be confused with a juggernaut, the Titans are averaging only 18.4 points per game (26th Overall) on a league-low 299.3 total yards (32nd Overall), including just 165.9 yards through the air (31st Overall) on 5.7 net yards per attempt (23rd Overall). Granted, they’ve been able to get by thanks to the powerhouse residing in their Backfield, where (two-time Rushing Champion) Derrick Henry spearheads the ninth-ranked rushing attack in the NFL (133.4). Seventy-six yards away from passing 1,000 rushing yards for the fourth time of his stelar career, the 28-year-old doesn’t appear to be slowing down, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt despite opposing defenses frequently loading the box to stop him. Prior to last weekend’s meager showing against Denver (more on that affair shortly), Henry (pictured below) was on a heater, rushing for 678 yards and seven touchdowns during the previous five games, churning out a healthy 5.26 yards per carry along the way. It was during the latter stages of that stretch in which the Titans became even more reliant upon his talents, particularly with (veteran Quarterback) Ryan Tannehill sidelined with a sore ankle, leaving (Rookie Quarterback) Malik Willis to pilot the attack in his absence. After trading away (Pro-Bowl Receiver) A.J. Brown in the offseason and losing (Pro-Bowl Left Tackle) Taylor Lewan for the season to a knee injury, the Offense has rarely looked anything remotely close to explosive, but what they are good at is not beating themselves (five turnovers in eight games), while really making the most out of their opportunities in the red zone. Simply put, no team has been better in this regard, scoring a touchdown on a staggering 76.2% of their attempts. Of course, it’s also helped immensely that the Defense has been borderline ELITE, ranking eighth in points allowed (18.7), second against the run (85.1), ninth in takeaways (13), and tenth in the red zone (52.0%). Furthermore, they’ve been the stingiest unit in the NFL on third down, permitting passage on just 27.9% of their opponents’ attempts. Keep in mind that (Outside Linebacker) Harold Landry and his twelve sacks from a year ago have played a single down of the football thus far due to a torn ACL suffered shortly before the season began. Indeed, this group has been greater than the sum of their parts, though some of those parts have been REALLY good; though he sat out last weekend’s affair with the broncos due to a tender ankle, (Defensive Tackle) Jeffery Simmons is arguably the league’s best defender that not enough people talk about, with the big fella racking up 5.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, and fifteen pressures.
When we last saw the Titans, they put together another of those signature performances that we’ve come to expect from them this season, besting the Broncos in a 17-10 victory at Nissan Stadium. On the surface, this one was a proverbial snooze fest for the viewing public, with the two sides combining for a whopping SEVENTEEN punts on the afternoon. Indeed, it took quite some time for Tennessee to get going, punting on their first six possessions of the contest. Fortunately, they did manage to find a rhythm before halftime, putting together a 13-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a 9-yard strike from Tannehill to (young Receiver) Nick Westbrook-Ikhine to finally get on the scoreboard. Then, midway through the third quarter, Tannehill and Westbrook-Ikhine hooked up again, this time for a rare 63-yard bomb to take a 14-10 lead, which (veteran Kicker) Randy Bullock extended later with a 35-yard field goal. Vrabel’s Defense clamped down in the second half, shutting out the visitors and permitting a scant 106 yards, including five consecutive punts, before intercepting (Broncos Quarterback) Russell Wilson at the 25-yard line to effectively end the affair. In the end, the Titans amassed just 307 total yards, including sixty-three of the rushing variety on twenty-three attempts, while possessing the football for only 26:03 of game time. In his return after a three-week layoff, Tannehill looked rejuvenated, completing 19-of-36 passes for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns, linking with Westbrook-Ikhine for 119 yards and those two scores on five receptions. The Defense logged SIX sacks of Wilson without Simmons on the field, while (Veeran Cornerback) Terrance Mitchell, on his third team in as many years, secured the interception to finish Denver off. Looking to tonight’s trip to Lambeau, the Titans haven’t tasted victory on its hallowed grounds since 2004. Granted, they don’t meet very often, but they did clash on the frozen tundra roughly two years ago, a forgettable 40-14 debacle. Tennessee has covered the spread in SEVEN straight games and are on a 7-3 run against the spread over their last ten outings as an underdog. On the injury front, there are a number of players listed as questionable for this short turnaround, with (Outside Linebacker) Bud Dupree, (Cornerback) Kristian Fulton, (Safety) Amani Hooker, (Center) Ben Jones, (Linebacker) David Long, and the aforementioned Simmons among the notables. Furthermore, (Linebacker) Zach Cunningham and (Cornerback) Caleb Farley have been placed on injured reserve with respective elbow and back injuries and will be out for a minimum of four games.
Meanwhile, the longest losing streak that the Packers (4-6, 2nd in NFC North) have endured in over fifteen years mercifully came to an end last weekend, and while a fourth straight division crown is likely well out of reach, it may be the turning point that this team needs to make a push for the playoffs. Going as far back as the Spring, there was a sense of pessimism that Green Bay was on the path of regression, which was only heightened following the departure of (All-Pro Receiver) Davante Adams, who was traded away shortly before the NFL Draft. Despite re-signing (two-time reigning MVP Quarterback) Aaron Rodgers to a lucrative new contract, the supporting cast around him was worryingly thin; the Receiving Corps seriously lacked experience, while the Offensive Line was in the process of being reshuffled. After getting shellacked in the season opener at Minnesota (23-7), (Head Coach) Matt LaFleur’s troops strung together three straight wins instilling a false sense of security in the fan base that was completely torn away during that aforementioned losing streak, in which they could muster just 15.8 points per game on 319.6 total yards with a minus-2 turnover differential along the way. The !@#$ hit the proverbial fan in an embarrassing 15-9 loss to the Lions, with Rodgers (pictured below) tossing THREE red zone interceptions against an opponent that has been nothing short of his own personal punching bag throughout his stellar career. Suffering from poor chemistry with his Receivers, poorer protection from the Offensive Line, and downright abysmal body language, the four-time MVP was downright unrecognizable in that affair, completing 23-of-43 passes for 291 yards, leaving many to wonder if the end was nearer than anyone could have thought. Coming off back-to-back MVP campaigns, it’s impossible to ignore the 39-year-old’s struggles thus far; he’s seen regression across the board, particularly in completion percentage (65.0%, down from 68.9%), touchdown percentage (5.0%, down from 7.0%), interception percentage (2.1%, up from 0.8%), yards per attempt (6.9, down from 7.7), and net yards per attempt (6.04, down from 7.00), causing his QBR to plummet from a league-best 69.1 to a miserable 39.6. Needless to say, this is NOT what the franchise had in mind when they handed him a FULLY GUARANTEED $150.8 million dollars over the next three years. Granted, there are MANY Quarterbacks who would take his stat line thus far, but given what he’s surrounded with, Green Bay NEEDS him to be the guy he was over the last two years to get them into the playoffs, let alone anywhere near competitive. Thankfully, he enjoyed a return to form in last weekend’s miraculous 31-28 rally over the Cowboys, which may have provided the template for success as he and his teammates embark on a playoff push.
Indeed, there was a point in last Sunday’s affair with the Cowboys in which it certainly appeared that all hope was lost, as the Packers stared down the barrel of a six-game losing streak and an insurmountable five-game deficit within the division. Trailing 28-14 heading into the fourth quarter, the hosts turned the tables on a franchise that had previously NEVER lost a game in which they led by fourteen points; seriously, Dallas was 195-0 when leading by two touchdowns! Bridging the third and fourth periods, Green Bay traveled seventy-six yards in nine plays, with Rodgers hitting (Rookie Receiver) Christian Watson for a 39-yard touchdown to draw within one score. Then, after forcing a punt, Rodgers would march his side eighty-nine yards downfield in ten plays, connecting with Watson for yet another touchdown (his third of the day), to send the affair into overtime. The visitors would get possession first, and though they managed to reach the Packers’ 35-yard line, (former Green Bay Head Coach) Mike McCarthy felt compelled to go for it on fourth and three rather than kick what would have been a 52-yard field goal, only for (Cowboys Quarterback) Dak Prescott’s pass fail to hit its mark, handing the ball back to the home side. Three plays later, Rodgers struck gold with a 36-yard laser to (veteran Receiver) Allen Lazard, setting up the game-winning 28-yard field goal from (veteran Kicker) Mason Crosby. In the end, amassed 415 total yards against one of the toughest defenses in the NFL, authoring a truly balanced performance with 207 rushing yards on thirty-nine carries, while Rodgers posted 224 yards and three touchdowns on a surgical 14-of-20 passing. It was nothing short of a breakout game for Watson, who prior to posting four catches, 107 yards and three scores had managed a meager ten receptions for eighty-eight yards and zero touchdowns in six games. Furthermore, the ground game was REALLY effective, as (Pro-Bowl Tailback) Aaron Jones rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown on twenty-four carries, while (fellow Tailback) A.J. Dillon added another sixty-five yards on thirteen attempts. Simply put, THIS is the way that the Packers need to play, with Jones and Dillon opening up the opportunity to take shots downfield to Lazard and Watson, which Rodgers proved more than capable of taking advantage of. Looking to tonight’s matchup with the Titans, the Packers are 7-3 straight-up in their last ten games played at Lambeau Field, but only a middling 5-5 against the spread in those contests. Being a favorite hasn’t suited them well at all, covering the spread in just two of their last ten outings, and failing to do so in five consecutive instances in which they’ve been favored. On the injury front, the short turnaround could see some absences for Green Bay, who could be without the likes of (Left Tackle) David Bakhtiari, (Linebacker) De’Vondre Campbell, (Cornerback) Rasul Douglas, (Edge-Rusher) Preston Smith, and (Guards) Elgton Jenkins and Jon Runyan, along with the aforementioned Jones and Watson, who all left that win over Dallas with various bumps and bruises. Furthermore, Rodgers has been nursing an ailing thumb on his throwing hand for weeks, and it remains to be seen how a short week will affect him.