Think about what has changed in your life over the last 10 years. Maybe you’ve graduated college and gotten that first real job. Maybe you’ve gotten divorced and remarried. Maybe you’ve had a kid or two or 10 like Philip Rivers. Maybe you had an iPhone 3. Maybe you still had an iPod Touch or maybe even a flip phone.
It has been 10 years since we’ve had a Divisional Round without the New England Patriots. The Tennessee Titans play the Baltimore Ravens in Saturday’s AFC playoff game because they knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs last weekend. They’ll face much longer odds of emerging victorious this week, as the markets are primarily showing Baltimore -9 with a total of 47.
It wasn’t pretty for Tennessee, but it didn’t have to be. The way that game played out showed so much disrespect for New England’s offense and it was the right way to do it. Tennessee got outgained 307-272 and finished with a yards per play disadvantage of 5.2-4.8, but the Titans ran the ball 40 times to New England’s 22. The Patriots had 21 more pass attempts and 11 more completions, but they only managed to outgain the Titans by 35 yards. Tennessee legitimately had no fear about the New England offense. They were going to run Derrick Henry and let the defense do its thing.
As it turned out, Tennessee went 2-for-2 in the red zone and New England went 1-for-3 and that was the difference. The Tom Brady pick six put a cherry on top, but the game was over at that point anyway. The Titans effectively won 14-13, but got six points from the pick six to win by seven. It wasn’t pretty. It was workmanlike, really. But it doesn’t take pretty to beat the Patriots, who had scoring drives of 57 and 44 yards. Kicking a 21-yard field goal didn’t help matters for New England and it never really does.
There is a reason why the Patriots were playing in the Wild Card Weekend. There is a reason why the Dolphins shocked the world to force New England into that game. The Patriots just weren’t very good. Defensively, sure, the Patriots were very good. Overall, they were not a good team.
This week’s opponent for the Titans just might be the most complete team in the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens have the MVP in Lamar Jackson. They have one of the most sought-after coaching candidates in offensive coordinator Greg Roman. They have a defense that allowed the third-fewest points and tied for seventh in takeaways. It is also an extremely rested team off of the Week 17 game against Pittsburgh and the bye week.
The Ravens scored 531 points. The 49ers were second with 479. Baltimore led the league in yards per carry, finished third in yards per play, and was the only team in the NFL to score on more than 50% of its possessions. This isn’t just a running team. The Ravens were also fourth in adjusted net yards per pass attempt. They were also second in third down conversion rate and second in red zone TD%.
Tennessee’s offensive numbers changed dramatically when Ryan Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota. Credit to first-year OC Art Smith for the job that he did with this unit. Tannehill had a 22/5 TD/INT ratio as a starter with a completion rate of 69.6%. Derrick Henry rushed for 5.9 yards per carry in the nine games he played with Tannehill behind center. AJ Brown and Jonnu Smith had breakout seasons. As expected, the Patriots and Stephon Gilmore completely took Brown out of the equation last week with one catch on his only target. The Patriots, though, could not take away Henry. He had 34 carries for 182 yards.
Henry’s recent workload has to be something of a worry, right? With the playoffs potentially hanging in the balance in Week 16, Henry sat out the game. In pursuit of the rushing title in Week 17, Henry had 32 carries for 211 yards. He had 34 and 182 last week. That is a really heavy workload for the big back from Alabama. He’s a pounding, physical runner, so the Ravens will have their hands full in the front seven and with safety help, but that is a ton of carries of late.
Jackson’s first career playoff start was a dud. He was 14-of-29 for 194 yards and got sacked seven times. He had nine carries for 54 yards. There are two key differences between last season and this season. The first is that Lamar is way better and the offense is tailored perfectly for him after some growing pains last season. The second is that the Titans haven’t gameplanned for the Ravens this season. When the Ravens played the Chargers last year, Los Angeles and Baltimore played in Week 16. The Chargers made the necessary adjustments and played much better the second time around.
The Titans don’t have that luxury, though they do have longtime defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was previously John Harbaugh’s DC in Baltimore. Pees left in 2018 to join the Titans, so he wasn’t there for any of the Lamar era, but he’s certainly familiar with Harbaugh’s philosophies and thought processes. That makes for an interesting wrinkle to this handicap.
The game could hinge on the red zone. Tennessee was #1 in RZ TD%, which is another indicator of the outstanding job done by Smith in his first year. Unfortunately, the Titans were 31st in RZ TD% against on defense. Baltimore was second in RZ TD% on offense and third on defense. If the Ravens are getting 7s and the Titans are getting 3s, that might be your ball game. Is that enough for the Titans to cover the number, though?
Pick: Baltimore Ravens -9
There are some 8.5s out there, so look for the best price that you can. Not to mention, Baltimore -8.5 is a nice teaser play at -2.5. The deciding factors for me in this game are twofold. The first is that the Ravens had the ball for 143 more plays than their opponents. The Titans need to use Derrick Henry to wear down the Ravens. It cannot happen the other way around. If Baltimore gets up early, Tennessee may end up getting a little one-dimensional. Baltimore also has an enormous edge in third down conversion rate on offense.
The other is the red zone success for the Ravens on defense. I do think that both teams move the ball here, in spite of the slight move down on the total. So, I’m leaning towards the over 47 as well.