The Titans’ organizational philosophy revolves around the fact that this team is not particularly talented. Because of this, they try to slow down the game on offense (10th slowest pace in the league), keep the ball on the ground (10th highest rush play rate), and throw exotic looks at opponents on defense in the hopes of limiting big plays (the Titans rank top half of the league in fewest plays of 20+ yards allowed, and they shave over 10% off the league-average YAC/r rate) while forcing opponents to march the whole field in order to score (fifth in drive success rate — conveying how difficult it is to build sustained drives in this spot). However, issues emerge for this Titans team when they face talented competition, as we saw a week ago when Christian McCaffrey lit them on fire (aided, it should be noted, by an injury to Jurrell Casey) and two weeks ago when Mike Evans did the same (aided, it should be noted, by an injury to Adoree Jackson). The Titans also have posted the seventh worst opponent red zone touchdown rate in the league (though the Chiefs — flukily, after ranking second in the league in this category a year ago — currently sport the sixth lowest red zone touchdown rate on offense).
This week, Patrick Mahomes will be returning to the field, creating a really difficult spot for the Titans. On the year, the Titans have managed to allow point totals of 13 // 19 // 20 // 10 // 14 // 16 // 20 // 23 // 30, while only allowing D.J. Moore and “Bucs receiver” (in this case, Mike Evans: 11-198-2) to top 100 yards against them among wideouts, and allowing only Austin Ekeler (7-118-1 through the air), Austin Hooper (9-130-0), and Christian McCaffrey (146-2 on the ground) to top 100 yards against them elsewhere. This is illustrative of the fact that it is difficult for teams to pop off for a truly monster game against the Titans, and it is difficult for multiple slate-winning scores to emerge from the same offense against this team (which becomes even more true when we take into account the type of score you need from Chiefs players at their prices in order for them to be considered slate-winning). With that said, the fact that this is Patrick Mahomes with Tyreek Hill against what is ultimately an average defense from a talent perspective means that we will likely see at least one really strong score emerge from the spot.
The likeliest bets for a “really strong score” are obviously Hill and Travis Kelce. Kelce has the biggest matchup boost against a Titans team that also allowed 6-97-0 to Hunter Henry and has been an attackable matchup with quality tight ends all year (as explored last week before they played Greg Olsen: Henry and Hooper are really the only high-end tight ends the Titans have faced). Kelce has target counts on the year of 8 // 9 // 8 // 8 // 10 // 6 // 8 // 8 // 9, and while he has only two touchdowns this year, he leads the NFL(!) in targets inside the 10 — where he has one catch on nine targets, for -3 yards. Not only is he a candidate for touchdown regression, but he also draws the best matchup for the Chiefs, making this a viable breakout spot.
The matchup is less attractive for Hill against a Titans team that, again, aims to limit big plays; however, Hill is about as matchup-proof a player as there is in the NFL, especially as a chunk of his “upside” production comes from scramble drills and/or plays in which Mahomes simply throws the ball downfield and allows his star receiver to adjust better than the defense. Hill comes with a moderate floor for his price, but the ceiling remains in place.
Behind these two, Sammy Watkins has seen recent target counts of 8 // 6 // 8 // 10, and while he hasn’t topped 64 yards since Week 1, he is locked in as the number three pass game weapon on one of the most explosive offenses in football, which always leaves open “upside” paths. Watkins is aided by the recent drop in usage for Mecole Hardman (20 snaps across his last two games, after playing nearly 60 snaps in his previous two games with Hill on the field).
The Chiefs backfield also contains occasional upside (as we saw last week with Damien Williams going for 128 total yards on only 14 touches), and we had a more concentrated distribution of snaps last week with Williams playing 43 of a possible 59 snaps (Darrel Williams played 10; LeSean McCoy played six). While it shouldn’t surprise us if Andy Reid shakes things up again this week (Williams played barely 40% of the Chiefs snaps in Week 8, and his Week 9 usage may very well have been opponent-specific), he is one of the more interesting ancillary pieces to consider from this game in tourneys.
The matchup for the Titans tilts heavily toward the ground, as the Chiefs rank fourth in DVOA against the pass and 28th against the run (in spite of a major fantasy/news outlet referring this week to this as a “juicy” matchup for Corey Davis…), while allowing only one wide receiver to top 100 yards against them and allowing six separate running backs to do so (five on the ground; one through the air). Unfortunately, Henry is the very definition of a “yardage and touchdown” back, with 11 catches on 16 targets through nine games, and he is priced up for the matchup on DraftKings/FantasyDraft (while on FanDuel — as we talk about often — you are essentially looking to build an “all star team,” and would need Henry to post one of the top three or four running back scores on the slate). But while the floor becomes thin with his role, the upside is certainly there, keeping him in the conversation. As long as the Titans can keep this game “close enough,” Henry should see 15 to 20 carries, with some slim paths to more usage than that.
While the matchup for the Titans pass catchers is not good, there is a slim case to be made for rostering them at their lower prices and hoping they pile up enough points to matter as the Chiefs jump out to a lead. Recent target counts among Titans pass catchers are as follows ::
>> Jonnu Smith :: 3 // 7 // 5
>> Corey Davis :: 7 // 6 // 5
>> A.J. Brown :: 8 // 3 // 7
>> Adam Humphries :: 4 // 6 // 4
>> Tajae Sharpe :: 3 // 3 // 4
JM’s Interpretation ::
This is an interesting game, with the Chiefs on the road in Mahomes’ first game back against an opponent that has allowed only one team to top 23 points (with that “one team” getting that production largely on the ground — where the Chiefs are less likely to focus their offense); and yet, this is the Chiefs, with Mahomes. Their Vegas-implied team total of 27.0 looks about right if we played out this slate a hundred times — and while it will be difficult for the Chiefs in this game environment to put up six offensive touchdowns (i.e., true “have to have it” production from an offense as a whole), three to four touchdowns is a fair expectation, and it wouldn’t be a major outlier if they found a way to score five times. Mahomes is very much in the conversation, while Kelce and Hill are strong options as well (Kelce in all contest types; Hill primarily in tourneys).
Henry is the next most viable piece (with the floor concerns laid out above, but with the ceiling that comes with this matchup), while the Titans pass catchers are at least in the conversation as salary savers who “should post a non-awful score, and could slip into a big score even in a tougher matchup.” The Chiefs’ ancillary pieces are also (as always) viable in tourneys attached to this Mahomes-led offense — though the main focus in this game should fall to the biggest names, as these are the players with the best shot at breaking this slate open.
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