Tennessee Titans A Hot Bet
by Trevor Whenham - 11/21/2006
The Titans may not be a very good team, and there is a lot not to like about them, but they have been very friendly to bettors this season. They are 6-2 against the spread in their last eight games, and they had gone over four games in a row before pushing the total on Sunday against Philadelphia. They are benefiting from big spreads and not a lot of love from the public, and they are paying off for those that are backing them.
This week the Titans face the Giants. New York looked completely incompetent on Monday night this week, so it is very likely that the Titans won't get the benefit of a large spread like they have had in most of their games. The Titans opened as three point underdogs, and it's hard to imagine that that number will grow before Sunday. The question, then, is whether this team is improving enough to be attractive with tighter spreads, or if the opportunity to profit from them has passed us by. Here's a look:
Travis Henry - The Titans have failed to cover four times this year. Henry was out with injuries for two of those games, and he had two of his three lowest rushing totals of the season in the other two. The rest of the time the running back has been solid, and at times he has been spectacular. He has put together yards per attempt of 5.6, 6.5 and a stunning 7.9 in three games this year. Not surprisingly, the underdog Titans won two of those games outright, and fell just a point short of toppling Indianapolis in the third. Considering that Henry was a castoff from Buffalo last year, his contribution has been amazing, and Tennessee wouldn't be nearly as good without him.
Drew Bennett - On a team that has struggled with a passing game, Bennett has been a real difference maker. He doesn't have all-world numbers, but no receiver could in this offense. What Bennett has provided is a reliable escape valve when needed. He is averaging almost 16 yards per catch, and he makes a big play whenever his quarterback needs it. He's crucial to the offense.
Defensive rookies - Like a lot of teams, the Titans have been hurt by injuries on defense. They have had some very unexpected players step up and do a very good job filling in. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch has started three games in a row, and he has made big plays in all three. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, from the football mega-power of Samford, filled in for the injured Reynaldo Hill last week and played so well that no one noticed that Hill was gone. These rookies and others have been key to a defense that hasn't been great, but has bright spots - it does, for example, lead the league in tackles.
Offensive line - The quarterbacking has been lousy, but at least they have been protected. The Titans' QBs have only been sacked 16 times, compared to Oakland's league leading total of 48. The team is in the top 10 in rushing thanks to the spaces the line opens up. The offense isn't good, but it is much better because of the big men up front when they have the ball.
Quarterbacking - As good as Vince Young was last year for Texas, his performance this season is a perfect argument for why junior quarterbacks should stay in school. Sure, he's making millions, but he is playing lousy and he can't be having much fun. Think of what Texas could be doing if he were taking the snaps in Austin again. Young sits last in the league in completion percentage at just 45.7, and his QB rating is ahead of only Andrew Walter. He hasn't looked comfortable, he's making bad decisions and he hasn't yet found a way to make his athleticism a weapon like it was in college. His only saving grace is that Kerry Collins was just as bad when he played, and the team seems to be winning more for him than it was for Collins. The team can't take another step ahead until the quarterbacking gets much, much better.
The schedule - After the easier-than-it-might-have-been game against the Giants, the Titans have some ugly challenges. They host Indy, Jacksonville and New England. On the plus side, that will mean more big spreads, and those have been beneficial to bettors. The problem, though, will be figuring out how their motivation is if they are completely out of salvaging this season in any way, and if the start to get beat up by the good teams. Suddenly they could go from feisty underdogs to doormats.
Discipline - This team isn't a bunch of hooligans like the Bengals, but they aren't model citizens either. Albert Haynesworth is back after his ridiculous stomping incident early in the year. Pacman Jones is just an idiot, and his most recent suspension for stupidity won't be his last. Billy Volek spouted off and caused trouble before he was traded to San Diego. These problems are certainly distracting, and they could get worse as the season gets more hopeless.
The Titans are a long way from being an elite team. For several weeks, though, they have been an attractive play when they get the right spread. You can't play them blindly now, despite a huge and dominant win over Philadelphia, but they should still have their playable spots down the line. As long as their motivation stays reasonably high, that is.