The top two teams in the AFC South meet on Thursday night in a match-up that should answer a few questions about the strengths and weaknesses of both, writes Mark Kirwan...
"The big question for Tennessee is can they keep scoring at a rate to cover for a defence that ranks among the worst units in league history in some very significant stats."
Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans
Live on Sky Sports NFL
Colts to bolt?
The Colts come into Thursday night's AFC South clash off a creditable showing against one of the preseason Super Bowl favourites, the Baltimore Ravens.
It finished with a flattering 24-10 scoreline in favour of John Harbaugh's team, but a dubious interception call that was reviewed and still allowed to stand turned the game against Indy.
You'd think they could take some encouragement from holding reigning MVP Lamar Jackson & Co in check for much of the game - Indy led 10-7 at the break, holding Jackson and the Ravens to just 55 offensive yards at the half, and were positioned to upset one of the AFC frontrunners before the pick, but Sunday probably says more about how both teams really aren't delivering on summertime expectations than anything else.
At least Baltimore know they have shown before they can deliver week after week. Indy still have a lot to prove.
Coming into this season the Colts had one of the best looking rosters in the league, but the results have been... well, very meh. This was supposed to be a team that could beat you through the air or on the ground, and also possessed a defence primed to dominate, but the performances have not been there.
They've pieced together a 5-3 record on a very easy schedule - only the Ravens and Browns of the six teams they've played have a winning record.
New QB Philip Rivers has not clicked as you might expect in coach Frank Reich's system. Rookie back Jonathan Taylor hasn't feasted in the running game either. TY Hilton, bedevilled by injuries, is yet to build rapport with his new QB while rookie Michael Pittman is has not made the plays many expected.
They're smack-bang in the middle of the most average offences in the league statistically, and that's despite facing a series of weak defences.
Their own defensive effort has improved with the signing of DeForest Buckner from the Niners, ranking among the very best in the league, and Reich is a shrewd coach, so the elements could still meld for January football. As they welcome the current leaders of their division, they must rank as one of 2020's most underwhelming teams.
Tennessee on top
By contrast, Tennessee's struggles have been on defence this season - when they haven't been hit by Covid-19 outbreaks.
The opening weeks of the season saw a string of player and staff infected, leading to a rejigged schedule and a roster flecked with absences.
But they were unfazed, putting together a 5-0 start that included a few tight finishes and a blowout of the fancied Buffalo Bills.
The Steelers ended that streak with a 27-24 win in Week 6 before their AFC North counterparts from Cincinnati were inspired by rookie QB Joe Burrow in a shock win over the Titans a week later. Alarmingly, that loss wasn't particularly close, with Tennessee starting as seven-point favourites and losing by 11.
The big question for Tennessee is can they keep scoring at a rate to cover for a defence that ranks among the worst units in league history in some very significant stats.
Reminder: the NFL is 100 years old. That's a lot of bad defences they're worse than.
Specifically, they're really failing to get opponents off the field on third down. That makes winning very difficult, regardless of what your offence does.
In recent weeks, their production with the ball has slowed too, an ominous sign. Ryan Tannehill needs to keep playing like one of the league's best passers, and running back Derrick Henry will have to trample defences if the Titans are to go further than last season's AFC title game appearance.
They were lucky enough to play the Bears last week, so it didn't matter that their production has dipped, but how many opponents will be as impotent as Chicago? And are Indy among them?
This is a match-up between two strong units and two weak ones, so I'd look at which you trust most.
The Titans offence has shown in multiple weeks they can put up scores when needed. They pushed the 8-0 Steelers all the way three weeks ago. The Colts defence hasn't had the toughest run before facing the Ravens last week, where they kept their team in a game with one of the most feared offences in the league.
Meanwhile, Indy's magnolia offence is getting a shot at another bad defence. It hasn't taken many of them apart so far.
If the line was a field goal or more, I'd side with the Colts, but the closer to pick'em this game is rated, the more I like the Titans offence to show up against a Colts D that hasn't proved anything yet. Tennessee -1.5 at 1.9110/11 or thereabouts is the bet.
The Colts offence's uninspiring play leads me to look at the under on the total of 49.0 points at 1.875/6. Tennessee haven't scored over 24 points in three weeks either, which makes the under appeal all the more.
For a first touchdown punt, Tennessee's more dynamic unit appeals over Indianapolis' stuttering attack, and that really comes down to a choice between Derrick Henry and AJ Brown. I'd lean to Brown. Firstly, he's a bigger price, at 7/1, despite having a similar touchdown strike rate to the running back. Secondly, the Colts defence has been more effective against the run than pass this season, so I'd take at him at the First TD prices.
Two other options appeal in Anytime betting. First, the Titans D and Special Teams should have a shot at a few turnovers with Philip Rivers' tendency to throw wildly, especially when his team trails.
Strengthening our #Defense at the trade deadline!? Tennessee Titans (@Titans2074) November 2, 2020
We have acquired DB Desmond King from the LA Chargers in return for a sixth round pick.
Tennessee only have one TD on defence all season, which came last week via the recently added Desmond King, and I think they're probably overdue a couple more at 9/2.
One name does jump out for the Colts value-wise. Marcus Johnson has carved out a role in the offence as others have failed to step up. He has 13 receptions in five games this season, with eight targets against the Bengals and seven last week against the Ravens. He's yet to find the endzone, but there aren't many more inviting opponents than Tennessee for wide receivers to end such a run. At 4/1 anytime, I think he's worth a look.
1pt on the Titans -1.5 @ 1.9110/11 on the Exchange
1pt on the Under 49.0 Total Points @ 1.875/6 on the Exchange
1pt on AJ Brown for First Touchdown Scorer on the Sportsbook @ 7/1
0.5pt on Titans D&ST Anytime Touchdown Scorer @ 9/2 on the Sportsbook
0.5pt on Marcus Johnson Anytime Touchdown Scorer @ 4/1 on the Sportsbook