In what should be a fantastic divisional clash on Thursday Night Football, the Titans (6-2) host the Colts (5-3) at Nissan Stadium. The line remains even, and the over/under rests at 48.5 points.
This will be the first meeting of the 2020 season between these rival squads, and the winner will spend at least the next 10 days atop the AFC South standings. If the Titans win, they stretch their division lead to two games. If the Colts win, they tie Tennessee in the standings but hold the top seed by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker. Of course, these teams meet for their second tilt in Indy two weeks from now, as well, but it’s fun to prop up the midseason drama.
This should be a close one, as these teams are both well-coached and excel at multiple facets of the game. The BetQL Best Bet Model agrees with oddsmakers that this one will go down to the wire, and that the total points scored will be right around 48.
Read on to see our comprehensive betting preview and full predictions for tonight’s matchup, and visit BetQL.com for up-to-the-minute game info. BetQL always has full previews, projections, expert analysis, and best bets for every game of the NFL season.
Indianapolis has won five of its first eight games this season by employing an old-school style of football. Philip Rivers has been a classic game manager, never trying to do too much or hold the ball too long. Indy prioritized its running game from Day 1, with multiple players each carving out important roles in the backfield. But the Colts defense has played the most pivotal role, keeping them in games in which they trail and preserving leads once they take them.
Rivers, who turns 39 in less than a month, has looked good but not great in his 17th season and first one as a member of the Colts. The longtime Charger and eight-time Pro Bowler has completed 67.9 percent of his passes and maintained a 91.9 QB rating. He has just 10 passing touchdowns in eight games and has thrown seven interceptions. But the important things coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni would probably point out are Rivers’ leadership, his clutch end-of-the-game execution, and his ability to avoid sacks. He leads the NFL in sack percentage, getting taken down on only 2.5 percent of passing plays.
However, the strategy of throwing less and running more caught up to the Colts a few games ago. Despite a hot 3-1 start, the Colts had thrown for just four total touchdowns. When the Browns’ front-seven imposed their will and stacked the box, Indy’s running game got stymied. Reich and Sirianni had to write up a new blueprint, architecting their veteran QB into a more important role.
In the Colts’ wins before and after their Week 7 bye (vs. Cincy and at Detroit), Rivers combined for 633 passing yards and six total touchdowns. His QB rating in that stretch was 114.5, and only one of his 77 passes got picked. Colts fans rejoiced, elated at the notion that their running woes — Marlon Mack’s season-ending torn Achilles’ in mid-September, rookie Jonathan Taylor’s consistency issues, or the fact that they have just six TDs in 65 rushing attempts in the red zone — might not matter.
Last week, Baltimore rolled into town and stomped the Colts 24-10. Indy only managed one touchdown, a one-yard fall-in by Taylor. Rivers completed only 25 of his 43 passes for 227 yards, and he got picked by cornerback Marcus Peters. No Colts running back reached 40 yards rushing, and they went two-for-12 on third downs. Taylor committed a costly fumble, which got scooped up and taken to the house by safety Chuck Clark. It was ugly.
So, the question now becomes, can the Colts beat good playoff teams? If they can’t pass when the box is stacked by a great defense and they can’t run when teams sell out to defend the pass, where’s the optimism? Sure, Indy has the third-best scoring defense, and the Colts lead the NFL in interceptions (11), total yards allowed (2,320, or 290 per game), and first downs allowed (143, 17.8 per game), but if they cannot score against other great defenses or outscore good offenses, this team could end up like a worse version of the 2019 Patriots.
The Titans may not have as strong a defense as the Colts, but their offense is far superior. Tennessee started the 2020 season going 5-0 and scoring 32.8 points per game. After a two-week stumble that included a tough 27-24 loss to Pittsburgh and a surprising 31-20 loss in Cincinnati, the Titans got back on track last week with a big 24-17 win over the dominating defense of the Bears.
Tennessee’s signal-caller is the veteran Ryan Tannehill, but its offense runs through 2019 Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry. His 182 rushing attempts and 192 total touches easily lead the league, and he makes the most of his opportunities. The fifth-year Alabama product has 843 rushing yards (105.4 per game) and eight touchdowns through eight games. He averages 4.8 yards per touch and has not fumbled once, the main reason why Tennessee has the fewest fumbles lost and second-fewest turnovers in the league.
While the Titans rank sixth in rushing, they actually have 10 fewer touchdowns on the ground than they do through the air. Tannehill’s 19 passing TDs has him tied with Josh Allen for fifth most, and he has just three interceptions, fewer than 24 other QBs. The Titans have the second-best red-zone percentage in the league, as they have scored touchdowns on 24 of their 30 red-zone trips.
Tannehill must be keeping his fingers crossed that his primary receivers can play tonight and stay healthy. Wideouts A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries have missed time due to injuries this season. Brown (bone bruise in knee), Davis (personal), and Humphries (concussion) all missed some practice time this week, too. They account for nearly half of Tennessee’s catches on the year, as well as over half of its receiving yards and 11 of its 19 TD grabs.
Seemingly making this a game of opposites, Tennessee’s primary problem has been its defense just as Indy’s issues are solely offensive. While the Titans have the second-best red-zone offense, they have the second-worst red-zone defense. Opponents have scored touchdowns 23 of the 29 times they have reached the red zone in Tennessee territory, and Tennessee’s third-down defense ranks dead last, as opponents have converted on a staggering 55.4 percent of third-down attempts. The Titans rank 25th in total yards allowed, 27th in passing yards allowed, and 29th in passing touchdowns surrendered.
But if it’s a matter of weighing out strengths and weaknesses, Tennessee at full strength and at home wins out, whether grading on paper or going by the eye test. Plain and simple, the Titans own a greater offensive superiority over Indy than the Colts’ defensive superiority over Tennessee. The Titans look poised for another playoff run, while Indy looks destined for a brutal second-half swing peppered with tough games (Tennessee and Houston twice, vs. Green Bay, at Las Vegas, at Pittsburgh). This might be the last home game of 2020 in which Tennessee is not favored, and it will more than likely be the last away game Indy is not an underdog.
The Colts look really good on paper with its 5-3 record, and they have played some pretty entertaining games. But the combined records of the five teams the Colts have defeated is 13-28. The only team Indy has faced that currently holds a playoff spot—Baltimore—crushed the Colts last week. Tennessee has averaged 33 points at home, and its only loss in five home games was by three points to the undefeated Steelers.
If Vegas wants to gift us with a pick ’em in Tennessee, we will gladly take the Titans and make some easy money before the holidays. Consider betting the OVER, too. Indy’s defense is very good, but its opponents have averaged 26 points per game over the Colts’ past four contests. The Titans just beat the Bears, an even better defense, in Chicago last week. The BetQL Best Bet Model lists two-star ratings on Indy at the half and on Tennessee to win the game. And while the Model projects the game to finish UNDER 48.5 by one point, we like Tennessee to prevail 27-23.
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