As the NFL season comes to a close, the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars will face off in a crucial Week 18 matchup on January 7th, 2023 at TIAA Bank Field.
The Jaguars currently hold an 8-8 record, while the Titans sit at 7-9. Despite their average records this season, both teams are still in contention for a playoff spot so this game has significant implications. It's a 'win and in' situation for both Mike Vrabel and Doug Pederson, so you can expect this to be one of the more intense matchups of Week 18.
The sportsbooks are favoring the Jaguars to win this game at -280 on the money line, while the Titans are at +235.
It's not entirely surprising considering the Jags slightly better record and the fact that they have been performing better as of late, winning their last four games, including a vintage overtime victory against the Cowboys. But perhaps the biggest factor for the bookies, is the Titans 6-game losing streak that saw them fall from strong division favorites to underdogs in the AFC South Title race.
One reason for the Titans fall from grace, was the injury of Ryan Tannehill (though they have only played 2 games without him).
Tannehill has been dealing with a foot injury since and has been ruled out for this game, which led to Malik Willis taking the offensive reins. Willis' poor performance over the last 2 weeks saw him get replaced by Joshua Dobbs in the Titans Week 17 matchup against Dallas.
Dobbs threw 20/39 for 232 yards and a touchdown last week, which has proved to be enough to earn the starting spot in Jacksonville this Saturday. While Dobbs has shown flashes of potential in his limited playing time this season, he will have a tough task facing off against a Jaguars defense that has been improving as of late.
On the Jaguars side, all eyes will be on quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who struggled early this season but has caught fire in recent weeks to lead a 4 game winning streak and claim the top spot in a close division.
Lawrence has thrown for 3,901 yards and 24 touchdowns, while also rushing for 294 yards and 5 touchdowns. He has proven to be a dual threat quarterback and this will likely be a key factor in the Jaguars game plan against the Titans.
In their Week 14 matchup with Tennessee, Lawrence recorded his highest passing-yardage game this year - putting up 368 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air, while he also found 6-points with his feet. He completed 30/42, threw no interceptions and didn't take a single sack all game. If this weekend's matchup is anything like their last showdown, expect some tough news for Tennessee fans...
Another player to watch on the Jaguars offense is running back Travis Etienne. Etienne missed the entirety of his rookie season due to a Lisfranc injury but he has had a solid first season, rushing for 1,108 yards and 5 touchdowns. Despite his lack of time in the end zone, Etienne has the potential to break off a big play at any moment and will be a challenge for the Titans defense to contain.
Speaking of the ground game, the Jags focus will undoubtedly be on running back Derrick Henry, especially as they have an inexperienced QB taking the snaps.
Henry has had another dominant season, rushing for 1,429 yards (3rd most) and 13 touchdowns (tied 2nd). He has been a key factor in the Titans offense and will likely see a heavy workload in this game. The Jaguars defense will need to find a way to slow down Henry if they hope to come out on top, but it will be a big ask for a team that has allowed an average of 112.75 rushing yards per game this season.
In all honesty, this game is a tough call. The Jags seem like strong favorites on paper, with a big advantage at QB, but you can never count out Derrick Henry...
Despite the Jaguars being the favorites to win this game, the Titans still have a chance to pull off the upset. If the Titans are able to contain Lawrence and the Jaguars passing attack, and if Henry is able to have a big day on the ground, they could come out on top. But my money's on Jacksonville easily covering the spread.
Titans 20 - 33 Jaguars
The upside for the Jags is that they still have a chance to make the playoffs even if they lose, but it is pretty slim. According to FiveThirtyEight's playoff probability model, the Jaguars have a roughly 12% chance of making the playoffs if they lose this game.
In terms of prop bets, there are a few options worth considering.
Trevor Lawrence - Passing Yards
One potential bet is on the over for Lawrence's passing yards, which currently sits at 258.5 yards. With the Jaguars likely relying on their passing attack to move the ball against the Titans defense, Lawrence could have a big day through the air. Considering his 368 passing yards the last time they faced each other, I would take the over here.
Derrick Henry - Rushing Yards
Another bet to consider is on the over for Henry's rushing yards. With the Titans likely leaning on their running game with Dobbs in at QB, Henry could have a chance to rack up a lot of yards on the ground, but consider the fact that the Jags will know this is coming... The Over/Under currently sits at 91.5 yards, which I would happily take, but I might lean more to the Over on attempts instead - currently at 22.5. Henry tends to see a lot of the ball when the Titans win, hopefully Mike Vabrel realizes that putting the ball in his playmakers hands should give them a better shot at the win. If you don't like this bet, consider Henry's Anytime Touchdown odds (1.83) instead.
Christian Kirk - Receptions
Another option could be the over on Christian Kirk's receptions - currently at 4.5. He may have only seen 3 targets in last week's game, but as the Jags’ leading receiver, I expect he will demand much more of the ball in this must-win game. In the 9 weeks prior, he averaged over 8 targets per game and I'm expecting Lawrence to connect on plenty of his attempts against a mediocre Tennesee defense.
Evan Engram - Receiving Yards
If you're not a fan of that, you could take the over on Evan Engram's yards and/or receptions - currently at 4.5 rec & 44.5 yards. The Titans have allowed the most yards to tight ends of any team this year and that was on full display the last time Engram played against Tennessee. The Jags TE logged 11 receptions, 162 yards and 2 touchdowns in the matchup... There's a good chance he could be Lawrence's favourite target once again.