Tennessee is overrated.
To understand this, first consider that Tennessee lost to the New York Jets and Houston Texans this season, two of the worst teams in the NFL. Despite these games, Tennessee had a 12-5 record during the regular season, good enough for the top seed in the conference.
However, a 6-2 record in one score games helped the Titans. Record in one score games strongly regresses to the mean of .500.
Second, the pass offense isn’t good, as QB Ryan Tannehill led the 20th best unit by my adjusted success rate. Top receivers AJ Brown and Julio Jones have both missed games due to injury. Both receivers played against Houston to finish the regular season, so this unit might perform better with these two players in the playoffs.
Tennessee has flourished this season because of the pass defense. This unit was dreadful in 2020 (30th), and they cleaned house in the secondary during the off season.
The Titans shot up to 6th in 2021 in pass defense. Their top 5 players in the secondary all have a PFF coverage grade of 65 or higher. This off season, I hope to look into whether this lack of a weak link leads to better pass defense.
Third, the markets have not respected Tennessee this season. To get a sense of this, Tennessee closed as a 10.5 point favorite at Houston during the last week of the season. In week 16, the Chargers, a team that didn’t make the playoffs, closed a 13 point favorite at Houston.
Tennessee gets to host Cincinnati, a team that held on to beat Las Vegas last week. Despite the promise of QB Joe Burrow and WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati has the 11th best pass offense by my adjusted success rate. They did put up an impressive 55.6% passing success rate last week against Las Vegas (43.9% NFL average).
Cincinnati is weaker on defense, as they rank 14th in my pass defense numbers. Despite a late Las Vegas drive that could have tied the game, Cincinnati did hold the potent Raiders to a 35.7% passing success rate.
I think the markets are correct in having Tennessee -3.5, as my numbers favor the Titans by 3.0 points. However, it’s not because the numbers like Tennessee. My member rankings have the Titans 13th, close to NFL average.
If Tennessee beats Cincinnati, they would be a home underdog to either Buffalo and Kansas City, two teams playing in the actual AFC championship game.
Football betting with a PhD edge
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