The Titans haven’t made three consecutive playoff appearances since they were still the Houston Oilers. That changes Saturday when the Titans host the Bengals in a game Tennessee opened as 3-point favorites. Reaching the postseason has become the standard under Mike Vrabel. But we’ve seen both a run to the conference championship as well as a wild card exit in the past two seasons, making it too soon to tell if this group is going to contend in the AFC perennially. One thing is certain about the Titans; they’re resilient. Tennessee went 6-3 without Derrick Henry. Ryan Tannehill won 12 games in one of his worst seasons as a passer. And then the defense grew tremendously mid-season – it went from allowing 384 yards and 26.8 points per game in the first six weeks to just 300.3 yards and 17.5 points over its final 11 games. The reward for those improvements is home-field advantage, where Tennessee was 7-2 this year and an extra bye week that might have Henry ready to return.
Cincinnati may be the lowest-seeded team remaining in the AFC, but underestimating Zac Taylor’s team would not be wise. The Bengals have won four of five games dating back to the regular season and just ended a 31-year drought between playoff wins. Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase have done a whole lot more than bring the LSU connection to Cincinnati. Those two have looked as good as most QB-WR combinations left in these playoffs, and they get to go up against Tennessee’s bottom-10 pass defense. That’s the matchup to watch, considering Joe Mixon could have some trouble with one of the league’s tougher run defenses. As for the Bengals’ defense, that group ranks fifth against the run but has allowed more than 100 rushing yards in five of six games. More importantly, the statuses of Trey Hendrickson, Mike Daniels and Larry Ogunjobi will be something to monitor after all three exited the wild card win early.
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|Writer||Straight Up Pick|
The Bengals are this classic team that everyone starts paying attention to in the last couple of weeks of the regular season and jumps on the bandwagon. Joe Burrow! Ja’Marr Chase! Beat the Chiefs! Won the AFC North! Sure, the Bengals took care of business against a bad Raiders team. But this is where the party stops of the Bengals and Zac Taylor. The Titans are a well-coached team. Cincinnati struggles against the run while Tennessee thrives at it. Three starting defensive linemen got hurt for the Bengals against Las Vegas. The Titans don’t make mistakes, and Mike Vrabel is a way better coach than Taylor at this point. It’s great that the Bengals won their first playoff game before Burrow was born, but I think the Titans take care of business in this one. I’m betting on the Titans -3 in this one. — Andrew DeWitt, senior sports betting editor
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