Saturday’s Bengals/Titans game is much more than just the first game of the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. It’s a battle of youth versus veteran guile. It’s a matchup of explosive potential energy versus a dogged, gritty rock. It’s also the return of the King, El Tractorcito, Derrick Henry.
That last bit is not news to you by now. The last time we saw Henry he was gingerly traversing the sidelines of the Titans in Indianapolis on Halloween. He was cleared for practice going into Week 18 and did some but clearly didn’t play. The Titans won that game, cleared another week of healing and conditioning for their star and set up a potential epic return. I’m here to tell you why you now need to take the Titans (at -3).
I’d like to start with a more global trend. In the last 5 seasons, the Divisional Round has been good to the favorites. The betting favorites are 8-2 ATS. I’ll add another more global trend: the Bengals have never won a road playoff game (0-7). How about one more larger trend? Mike Vrabel is 4-0 ATS after having a week off. In those games, the Titans have won by an average of 20.5 points. They did do that twice to Jacksonville, but last year beat Buffalo ( the AFC East champion) by 26 after an off week.
Those are nice but for me what sells the Titans is the numbers I’ve dug up related to this actual matchup on the field. To start, Cincinnati will have to stop the Titans run game to have a chance because Tennessee will attempt to limit Joe Burrow’s possessions and they are already built to do so. The Titans are second in the NFL in time of possession. The Bengals are 21st in the NFL in time of possession on the road. The Bengals will be without stud defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and veteran defensive tackle Mike Daniels. Both of those guys got hurt in last week’s win vs. the Raiders. That will most certainly test if this fifth-ranked rush defense can maintain that status. I don’t think they will.
Much has been made about the passing attack of young Burrow and his squadron of receivers and it is all well-warranted. The Titans could see themselves in a bind as the NFL’s 25th-ranked pass defense. Kristian Fulton and Kevin Byard will get a lot of work but both have performed pretty well, combining for 27 passes defended and Byard is tied for fourth in the league with five interceptions. The last time the Titans had an off week they followed it by forcing four interceptions from Trevor Lawrence. Take that one with a little grain of salt, but it still counts.
What I love about this for the Titans is clearly the King’s return. This offense, even this season, is so vastly different with him in the lineup. Ryan Tannehill finally has a full compliment of offensive weaponry again and it will show. This season, Tannehill averages 192.4 pass yards per game without Henry in the lineup but with him in… 250.3 yards per game. That’s nearly sixty yards per game difference. SIXTY! Derrick Henry is, you may be aware, a beast. Off a bye, tho, he’s even more ridiculous. While the team’s average yards per carry jumps to a powerful 4.7, Henry’s explodes to 5.5! Mmmmm.
This Bengals pass defense isn’t the top-flight operation some may lead you to believe. Only six teams have allowed more passing yards this year than the Bengals in 2021. I can’t find much I don’t like about Tennessee this weekend. The Bengals, with all their fantastic explosiveness, couldn’t get away from the Raiders even after being +2 in turnovers for the day. It’s going to be a Titans kind of day and the public will be reintroduced to the really good version of Tennessee.