Titans, Raiders to do battle for playoff lives

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Tennessee Titans at Oakland Raiders

Over/Under: 47.5

Kickoff: 1:25 p.m. PT


Only eight teams in the NFL run the ball at least 45 percent of the time. That’s pretty notable, being just a quarter of the league. Three of those clubs boast 1,000-yard rushers, so it’s only logical to continue such rushing tendencies. Two of them, who happen to also be involved in the AFC playoff picture at this late juncture in the campaign, will meet Sunday in Oakland with the final Wild Card berth at stake.

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Just from that premise alone, it can be surmised this will be a grind-it-out affair given the two offenses that are set to engage on the gridiron. After all, when you think of big-play offenses, the Titans and Raiders do not particularly come to mind.

The pair of starting running backs invite such a conservative game plan, of course. Derrick Henry has once again proven himself worthy of being a workhorse running back, ranking third in all of football in both yards (1,140) and touchdowns (11) on the ground. This while taking on the NFL’s fourth-largest (232 totes) workload.

Rookie sensation Josh Jacobs, meanwhile, has enjoyed a marvelous debut season for the Raiders, so much so that he’s probably the main frontrunner for this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Like his counterpart, Jacobs is one of the six RBs already above the 1,000-yard plateau.

Therein lies the nucleus of betting this total. Already having a penchant for running the football, look for the rush attack from both sides to dictate the pace of this contest — something that is only celebrated when having under action.

The clock will be moving but can the defenses be enough to offset and prevent the two tailbacks from wreaking havoc?

Well, that can be relied upon as far as the Titans go. Although Tennessee’s last six games have gone over the total, this is a quality defense going that has allowed the seventh-fewest points (19.5) each week.

They’re also a group that ranks in the top 10 (102 yards/week) opposite the run. A key reason for that has been their ability to limit big gains. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Titans have yielded 30 “explosive” plays on the ground, tied for the 10th-fewest allowed in the league.

It also will help that Jacobs (shoulder) is banged up. In addition, quarterback Derek Carr has been reeling a bit the past couple weeks. Carr’s totaled only 349 yards within this span, averaging a mere 6.12 per attempt, to go with one touchdown and three picks. If he’s not in rhythm, it only makes him more vulnerable to a hungry defense that knows what’s on the line.

What about Oakland on the defensive side of the ball? They’re actually slotted just a spot behind the Titans in rushing defense (103.6 yards/week), which can certainly be a contributing factor when seeking out an opponent capable of containing Henry.

The story as of late involving Tennessee’s offensive unit, though, has been the renaissance put forth by Ryan Tannehill. Since assuming control under center for Marcus Mariota, the former Miami Dolphin has been nothing short of excellent.

In fact, Tanehill has engineered an offense that’s averaged 29.7 points (!!) in his six starts while remarkably posting the NFL’s best passer rating (113.9) in his new digs. Tannehill’s reemergence is one of the most underrated stories around the league this year and it’s arguably the main reason why the Titans enter this affair having won five of six to thrust into a postseason position.

Simply put, however, I just don’t think it’s sustainable. Sooner than later, this run by the eight-year vet has to simmer down, and in a battle of two sides who will often take it to the ground, this might be a spot for some sort of regression. Plus, Tannehill isn’t the best with his feet, a trait that has to hurt him eventually. After all, the Titans are tied for the most sacks (49) given up.

Perhaps as important as anything, the kicking game from both teams just hasn’t been strong. Tennessee’s Ryan Succop and Oakland’s Daniel Carlson are only a combined 13-for-21 (61.9 percent) on field goals this season. Obtaining a lengthy drive, only to see the kicker fail to drill it through the uprights, is always a beautiful sight for any under bettor.

To be sure of surviving this Week 14 matchup, I’m buying the half-point to make it an even 48. This decision protects us in the event of a 31-17/28-20 final. Play: UNDER 48 (-120)

Last Week: Saints-Falcons Over 48 (“loss”), Patriots-Texans Over 45 (WIN)

Zylbert’s 2019 NFL Over/Under Betting Record*: 9-6, +1.8 units

*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 unit

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