This article is part of our NFL Observations series.
The line closed with the Titans as home underdogs, and I was mystified as to why. The AFC runner-ups were 6-2, barely losing to undefeated Pittsburgh on a missed FG and one of the NFL’s best teams over the last 16 games, essentially ever since Ryan Tannehill took over. The Colts have a good defense, but that’s about it. So why were the Colts road favorites?
It turns out defense and special teams were the difference, but also the Colts style is maddening and effective. Short passing, using all four downs, grinding out long drives and keeping the Titans average defense on the field. In fact, while the Titans were winning 17-13 at the half, the Colts had run far more plays even though the Titans had the ball to start the game.
- Philip Rivers had time to throw, and he did his job as a game manager, not making errors and dink and dunking down the field. He did have a 40-yard pass play, but it was mostly an after-the-catch run by Michael Pittman (8-7-101).
- Nyheim Hines (12-70-1, 6-5-45-1) was the hot hand, and he led the backs in carries and catches. Jonathan Taylor and Jordan Wilkins did little but get stuffed at the goal line a few times.
- T.Y. Hilton (5-4-40) was back and converted a key first down. At least he looked healthy.
- Ryan Tannehill had a tough go of it. He took only one sack – a huge one on a key third down after which the wheels fell off (shanked punt leading to a short TD drive before the blocked-punt TD) – but was pressured frequently and suffered from two bad drops from A.J. Brown (4-1-21.)
- Corey Davis (6-5-67) was on the only productive Titans receiver, though Jonnu Smith scored a rushing TD.
- Derrick Henry (19-103-0, 2-1-6) ran effectively, but the game flow got away from him in the fourth quarter.
- Stephen Gostkowski missed a 44-yard FG that would have cut the fourth-quarter lead to seven. The Titans are 6-3, but he’s botched some big kicks this year.
- I’d still take the Titans over the Colts for an AFC title or Super Bowl futures bet. That style works when you can muscle an average defense, but it won’t scale against the Ravens or Steelers.