Texans at Titans carries the highest Over/Under on the slate — which would already have been a surprise about a month and a half ago, but it’s even more of a surprise when you take into account the fact that this is a fairly attractive slate as a whole. When we talk about teams evolving throughout the season, this is a perfect example of what we mean, as the Titans — since installing Ryan Tannehill as their starting quarterback — have reeled off six wins in seven games, while scoring team point totals of 23 // 27 // 20 // 35 // 42 // 31 // 42 and notching wins against Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Oakland in this stretch.
Each of these teams likes to keep the ball on the ground (both rank top nine in rush play rate), while each defense tends to tilt opponents toward the air (both rank top nine in highest opponent pass play rate), though our first stop in this matchup is to note that the Houston run defense is not particularly terrifying, with a number 14 DVOA ranking and a non-threatening 4.41 yards allowed per carry to enemy running backs. (The Texans also rank 27th in DVOA against the pass; more on this in a moment.) With the Titans building their offense off of the threat of Derrick Henry (Tannehill has topped 29 pass attempts only twice in seven starts, and he has three games already of 22 or fewer attempts), it is unlikely that we see them tilt too far away from this approach in what is very nearly a must-win game at home. The Texans, on the other hand, are likely to be tilted toward the pass in this one, as the Titans rank fifth in DVOA against the run and are allowing only 3.97 yards per carry to backs, while Christian McCaffrey is the only running back who has topped 100 yards on the ground in this matchup. Tennessee ranks 23rd in DVOA against the pass and has been rocked hard by injuries in the secondary, making it easier for the Texans to move the ball through the air. Both teams should be able to move the ball in this game, and both should be able to score. (Worth noting :: the Titans and Texans defenses are both bottom three in opponent red zone touchdown rate. Both teams are top five in red zone touchdown rate on offense.)
Volume on the Titans is likely to tilt first and foremost toward Henry, who has recent touch counts of 25 // 20 // 29 // 19, and who has nine touchdowns in his last five games. The touchdowns are driving his price higher than his actual role (7-42-0 through the air across his last four games combined), but the touchdown opportunities are a consistent part of his role, and he does look unstoppable at times by this point in the year. The Texans may be able to bottle him up on a chunk of his runs, but he’s likely to break off at least a couple of his longer runs once again here.
In the pass game, volume is spread out in Tennessee; and with the Titans limiting passing volume as much as they can, volume becomes fairly thin on individual players. The clear alpha has become A.J. Brown, though Brown has target counts with Tannehill of only 8 // 3 // 7 // 4 // 5 // 4 // 7. The matchup and the nature of this game (with the Titans unlikely to shut down the Texans) should lead Brown to the higher end of that target range. He isn’t as attractive as he was last week, but Houston has had issues after the catch at times this year, making him a “bet on big play” option with paths available for those big plays to show up. Behind Brown, of course, it’s hoping to guess right across a range of generally low-volume options.
On the Texans’ side, Will Fuller has missed or mostly-missed five games this year, and in those games DeAndre Hopkins has target counts of 12 // 13 // 11 // 12 // 13, while Hopkins has seen eight or fewer targets in six of the eight games he has played alongside Fuller. If Fuller returns to the field this week, he’ll resume his boom/bust role as an “ignore floor, hope to capture upside” option, while Hopkins will be a “bet on talent and hope volume follows” play. If Fuller misses, however, Hopkins should function as the engine of this offense in a matchup he should be able to crack. (Behind Hopkins, Kenny Stills retains an ultra low floor with his one-dimensional usage, though there is try-to-catch-lightning ceiling. Keke Coutee emerged from the doghouse last week to see eight short-area targets, and it’s likely he fills that role again if Fuller is out of action. Of course, there’s also a chance the Texans roll with more 12 personnel against the exotic pressure looks of the Titans. The tight ends, of course, are simply closing your eyes and hoping for touchdowns, while the running backs are “hoping these guys break the matchup for touchdowns in what could be a high-scoring game.”)
JM’s Interpretation ::
Henry // Tannehill // Watson // Nuk are all varying levels of attractive to me in this spot, with Watson and Nuk potentially pushing toward Tier 1 this week (with Nuk of course dropping to Tier 3 if Fuller is healthy enough to play).
Behind these guys, A.J. Brown should see higher ownership at his higher price, in a less attractive matchup than what he had last week; but he does still maintain the explosiveness that has made him so valuable in tourneys a few times this year, and he’s a solid bet for six to eight targets here. I’ll likely leave the rest of this game alone outside of game stacks — though this game is intriguing enough that game stacks are, of course, very much in play.