Can everyone just let the Titans live please. No, I’m not about to do a “nobody believes in us” post, but while we have ESPN calling them one of the worst No. 1 seeds ever and everyone singing praises for Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase to pull off the upset this weekend, it’s important to remember this Tennessee team is actually good! With them looking (relatively) whole by kickoff for the first time in three months, we’re about to find out why.
The Titans had a truly bonkers path to their top seeding. When MVP candidate Derrick Henry went down with a foot injury that required surgery in October, most expected them to unravel. And if I told you then that just three offensive players would play in all 17 games, skill position players would miss 112 games in total, and through injuries and Covid-19 infections, 91 different dudes would throw on a blue jersey, you’d agree.
Instead, the franchise rolled to its best finish since 2008 at 12-5, and though it didn’t maintain King Henry’s otherworldly rushing pace, the ground game was still strong. Before his injury, Music City combined to rush for 1,181 yards on 260 carries (4.54) and 13 touchdowns in eight games. After, the team piled up 1,223 yards on 317 carries (3.86 y/c) and 10 touchdowns in nine games.
Yes, the Titans’ schedule was a bit weak (the Bengals’ was weaker.) And yes, losing to the Steelers in Week 15 didn’t feel great. But think of where the team will be if Henry returns as even a fraction of himself. Maybe these numbers will help, too: Tennessee is 11-2 when A.J. Brown plays and the franchise is 8-0 under Mike Vrabel with eight or more days off. Guess what’s all true on Saturday?
The Bengals (+3.5) are the fun pick but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right one. First-time playoff QBs (looking at you, Burrow.) often struggle, and this Titans defense has carried its weight all season. Now they’ll have the offensive firepower to match.