(Mandatory Image Credit: Matthew Emmons / USA Today Sports)
Written By: Joseph Yun
The slumping Tennessee Titans host the playoff-bound Dallas Cowboys on a warmer Thursday night. Dallas needs to sweep their remaining games and hope that the Eagles lose their remaining pair to win the NFC East. As it currently stands, they are virtually locked in as the fifth seed but the winter winds of the playoff race are a fickle hell beast. Tennessee cannot alter its playoff fate except to better its record as the AFC South race comes down to Week 18. Mike Vrabel has stated Tennessee will consider resting key players but assume that rest will be provided once this game gets out of hand. Jacksonville head coach Doug Pederson has been adamant about going for it as well with nothing to gain or lose. Can the reeling Titans rebound with an upset to make themselves feel good heading into a do-or-die Week 18 showdown?
Cowboys’ key numbers + info
Note: All statistics courtesy of pro-football-reference.com
HC: Mike McCarthy (154-96-2 career)
OC: Kellen Moore
DC: Dan Quinn
2022 Record: 11-4 (4-1 NFC North)
PPG Against: 20.2
Rush yards: 2,147
Rush yards allowed: 1,950
Avg. per rush attempt: 4.5
Avg per attempt allowed: 4.5
Pass completion rate: 65%
Pass completion allowed: 64%
Leading Rusher: Tony Pollard (186 attempts for 988 yards and nine touchdowns)
Leading Receiver: CeeDee Lamb (91 receptions for 1,207yards and eight touchdowns)
Leading Tackler: Donovan Wilson (95 tackles, six tackles for loss, one interception, four sacks, two fumbles forced, two passes defended)
Key Additions: EDGE Dante Fowler, WR Kavontae Turpin (rookie), DB DaRon Bland (rookie), OT Tyler Smith (rookie), TE Peyton Hendershot (rookie), EDGE Sam Williams (rookie), LB Anthony Barr, K Brett Maher, OT Jason Peters, WR T.Y. Hilton, LB Damone Clark (rookie), WR James Washington
Key Losses: WR Amari Cooper (trade), OT La’el Collins, OT Terrance Steele (IR), CB Anthony Brown (IR), CB Jourdan Lewis (IR), LB Tarell Basham, DT Jonathan Hankins (IR), DT Trysten Hill, LB Leighton Vander Esch (injured)
Notable Practice Squad: EDGE Takk McKinley, CB Mackensie Alexander, CB Kendall Sheffield, RB Qadree Ollison, WR Antonio Callaway, LB Malik Jefferson
Dallas leads the all-time series 8-7. The teams have played six times since the renaming of the Titans franchise with both teams splitting the series since. Tennessee is 1-2 over that span at Nissan Stadium. The average scoreline in those three games has been 24 to 18 in favor of the Cowboys. The Cowboys have outscored the Titans in these six games by a margin of 133 to 130.
Keys to a Titans Victory
Get in and get out
- The odds are heavily slanted for the high-powered Cowboys to run away with this one and there’s no incentive for the Titans to go all in a meaningless interconference matchup. Manage loads of hurt players like Jeffery Simmons, Kristian Fulton, and Derrick Henry, and get out as healthy as you can for next week. It’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing a lot of backups get some tape out there for this team to retain or for another team down the road to pick them up. The extra days off being a Thursday night game will help tremendously.
Bonus Evaluation Period
- With so many injuries up and down the roster and less than high stakes of this draconian affair, it’s like manna sent from the football gods for the coaches to evaluate the roster in a real “must-have” game. Most importantly, Is Malik Willis the guy that can at least take the reins as a bridge quarterback next season? How much of the offensive line needs to be turned over? (Short answer is at least three of the five slots). Who beyond the top four defensive studs remaining (Simmons, Fulton, Byard, and Long, Jr) needs to be retained? All that and more will be answered to some degree against a tough Dallas team needing to win out.
Keys to a Cowboys Victory
End it early and move on
- While the Titans are likely to “attempt” to keep it competitive, Dallas has the far more dominant team, both physically and health-wise. It would behoove the Cowboys to take a commanding lead early and not play around with its food, only to throw it away later on. They have bigger fish to fry next week (similar to Tennessee in that regard) against the hated archrival Commanders while scoreboard-watching this weekend and next. Like the Titans, they just need to get in and out of Nashville as healthy as possible.
- The Cowboys have a plethora of defensive line beasts up front to beat up an already tired and wounded Titans offensive line. Dan Quinn will have a blast switching DPOY favorite(?) Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence against the worst tackle in the NFL (Dennis Daley) and a rookie right tackle. On the perimeter, it’s an even bigger mismatch with the Cowboys’ secondary going against the Titans’ haphazardly built skill players. Star rookie corner DaRon Bland has been on fire lately, snagging five interceptions and seven passes defended. Old friend Malik Hooker will be out for revenge as well. Of course, Trevon Diggs is the leader of the solid secondary so it will be interesting to see if he matches up against Treylon Burks all game.
Establish. The. Pass?
- Of course, Dallas has a devilishly powerful 1-2 punch at running back with Tony Pollard and their own highly-compensated runner Ezekiel Elliott to overpower teams but the Titans have a putrid secondary. Kellen Moore may need to dial up the pass more with the Titans creeping up to stop the Zeke-Pollard ticket. They certainly have the weapons to do that with, including notable Titans killer T.Y. Hilton. Expect monster days from CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and even underused Noah Brown.
Injury Report - Cowboys @ Titans
What are the Odds?
(note: all odds courtesy of vegasinsider.com)
BetMGM has the Cowboys being ten-point favorites at -110, the money line at -500 for Dallas, and the Titans at +360. over/under is set at 40.5.
Caesar’s has the Cowboys being ten-point favorites at -110, the money line at -480 for Dallas, and the Titans at +460. The over/under is set at 40.5.
WynnBet has the Cowboys being ten-point favorites at -110, the money line at -500 for Dallas, and the Titans at +400. The over/under is set at 40.
FanDuel has the Cowboys being 10.5-point favorites at -105, the money line at -510 for Dallas, and the Titans at +390. over/under is set at 40.5.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram