Titans look to close gap on AFC South-leading Texans
The Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans seem to be heading in opposite directions as the 2018 season progresses. After starting 0-3, Houston has gone on an impressive seven-game win streak to take hold of the AFC South.
Tennessee, on the other hand, is 2-4 over its last six games. Included in that stretch was a 38-10 beatdown from the Colts last week. In other words, it’s likely that the Titans are playing themselves out of any sort of potential playoff berth.
The showdown between these two teams on “Monday Night Football” will be a chance for both to make a statement as we get deeper into the back half of schedule.
Tennessee at Houston
Kickoff: Monday, Nov. 26 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Texans -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Titans bounce back after last week?
There’s no denying that the 2018 season hasn’t been good to the Titans. With that said, things may have hit a breaking point after the 38-point loss to the Colts last week. From start to finish, Tennessee was dominated in almost every facet — leaving fans wondering if there’s any hope left for the rest of the season.
In other words, Tennessee has officially hit the point where every game may be a must-win.
The problem with that is Houston’s motivation in this game. The Texans already dropped one to the Titans back in Week 2 when they traveled to Nashville lost 20-17. On top of that, the Texans will be playing this divisional game at home, where their only loss was back in Week 3.
This game isn’t setting up well for the Titans on paper.
2. Will Marcus Mariota be at 100 percent?
If there was any good news for Tennessee, it’s that the offense will more than likely be led by Mariota. After the former No. 2 overall pick suffered a stringer in last week’s game, his availability was in question for most of the week.
Overall, it’s been an up-and-down season for the Oregon product. He’s was forced to miss that Week 2 win over the Texans due to an elbow injury, but it’s been his on-the-field play that has created the most inconsistency.
In nine games (eight starts), the 25-year-old has only thrown for 1,583 yards and seven touchdowns while tossing six interceptions. Sure, he’s added 255 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, but the fumbling problem continues to be an issue (six fumbles, two lost).
The Titans need Mariota to bring his A-game against a formidable Texans defense.
3. Houston’s defense looks healthy
Houston has fielded one of the league’s top defenses this season. The Texans have only given up 3,305 yards on the year (330.5 ypg), which placed them seventh entering Sunday’s action. They’ve only generated 28 sacks (tied for No. 14). But with guys like J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, they still have one of the most feared pass rushes in the NFL.
It also looks like they’ll be adding two more pieces back as well. Linebacker Zach Cunningham and cornerback Aaron Colvin are both expected to play after missing time due to injury.
Cunningham, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound inside linebacker from Vanderbilt, has only missed the last two games. But Colvin hasn’t seen game action since late September, so it’ll be a major boost to the secondary having him back in the lineup.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Tennessee goes into NRG Stadium and comes away with a win. The offense has been one of the worst in the NFL (ranked 30th, 295.4 ypg) and will be going up against one of the top defenses in the league.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some talented pieces on the Titans’ roster. The defense is littered with potential impact players, but that impact may not be fully felt until next year.
The Texans have steadily improved on the offensive side of the football as the season has gone on. That especially holds true for Deshaun Watson, who’s thrown eight touchdowns and only two interceptions over the last three weeks.
With the matchup on Monday night, that improvement from Houston should continue to be on display as the Texans post their eighth consecutive victory and increase their lead in the AFC South.
Prediction: Texans 28, Titans 17
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.