Mike Vrabel and his staff have done a remarkable job for the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans offense that was built around Derrick Henry, and Tennessee hasn’t lost since losing Henry. Tennessee’s big splash addition was Julio Jones, who has been mostly a non-factor due to injuries and finds himself on IR. The Titans defense was viewed as a problem for the season but it has played much better than expected. There are reasons the Titans are 8-2 and arguably the hottest team in football after six straight wins.
And there are also reasons to wonder if any of this is sustainable.
In this NFL, where each new hot contender immediately takes a terrible loss, the Titans stand out. They’re not losing, and that has them looking like a bankable asset. Maybe they are and the winning streak will continue for a long time. There are just some concerns beneath the surface.
Over the last two games — the two games since Henry’s injury — the Titans are averaging 229 yards per game. To put that into perspective, only two NFL teams are averaging fewer than 300 yards this season, and the Texans are dead last at 280.1. The offense has been terrible without Henry. The running game has completely dried up. It’s hard to ask Ryan Tannehill to carry an offense, especially without Julio Jones. Marcus Johnson had 100 yards on Sunday but it seems hard to believe he’ll be a consistent playmaker with Jones on IR.
What’s helping the Titans is grabbing four wins that were decided by three points or less. Those games are coin flips and had one or two turned out differently we wouldn’t be paying nearly as much attention to Tennessee. On Sunday, the Saints could have won if not for a controversial roughing-the-passer call that negated an interception, or maybe if New Orleans’ last-minute two-point conversion attempt wasn’t pushed back due to a false start penalty. The Titans are getting a lot of those breaks. Maybe they lose against the Colts in Week 8 if Carson Wentz didn’t throw two horrid interceptions, or they lose in Week 9 against the Rams if Matthew Stafford didn’t throw two horrid interceptions. The Titans had something to do with those mistakes and the close wins, but it’s hard to depend on opposing quarterbacks losing their minds in their own end zone and throwing passes up for grabs each week.
The Titans have been outgained four times in their last six games, including against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They were outgained my more than 100 yards each of the last two weeks. In Football Outsiders’ DVOA, a per-play metric that adjusts for opponents, the Titans were ranked No. 14 in the NFL before Week 10 and are unlikely to move up after the Saints outgained them 373-264.
For those who will say all that matters are wins and the Titans have beaten some very good teams lately, that’s true. Given their lead on the Colts in the division, there’s a very small chance they won’t win the AFC South and host a playoff game. They’re the No. 1 seed in the AFC at the close of Week 10. But there’s a difference in appreciating what a team has done and wondering if can continue.
The Titans are well-coached, they’re way better than anyone anticipated on defense and their 8-2 record gives them a cushion to figure things out on offense, particularly with a D’Onta Foreman-led running game. But you’ll probably hear a lot this week about the Titans being the AFC’s best team and a Super Bowl contender. That’s a lot harder to buy.
Here are the power rankings following Week 10 of the NFL season:
32. Houston Texans (1-8, Last Week: 32)
The Texans play at the Titans this week and that’s probably not going to end with a win (though given the upsets lately, who knows). But Houston does have games remaining against the Jets and Jaguars. They might not be stuck on one win forever.
31. Detroit Lions (0-8-1, LW: 31)
The Lions aren’t going to lose 17 games at least. A tie at Pittsburgh isn’t ultimately satisfying but it is progress. They probably should have won and would have with even a little more from Jared Goff (14 of 25, 114 yards, no touchdowns in an overtime game).
30. New York Jets (2-7, LW: 29)
The Jets have allowed 175 points over the last four games, the second-most points allowed over a four-game stretch since 1970 (the 2004 Titans gave up 177 over a four-game stretch), according to USA Today. The Jets are also the first team since the 1966 Giants to give up 45 or more points in three of four games. The Jets don’t have a ton of talent but it has to get better than this the rest of the season.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-7, LW: 28)
It might be faint praise, but the Jaguars didn’t give up. They could have packed it in when the Colts took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, but they were within three points in the fourth quarter. That counts as progress.
28. Miami Dolphins (3-7, LW: 30)
Tua Tagovailoa made some plays off the bench in last week’s win over Baltimore and he’s expected to start this week. Hopefully he stays healthy the rest of the way, and the Dolphins can get a true evaluation of him heading into the offseason.
27. New York Giants (3-6, LW: 26)
Saquon Barkley returned to practice on Monday and seems set to play for the first time since injuring his ankle on Oct. 10. At this point, Barkley’s ability to stay healthy for half of a season is a question the Giants have to answer.
26. Washington Football Team (3-6, LW: 27)
Washington had a great win on Sunday, but it also included the awful news that Chase Young tore his ACL. Hopefully that doesn’t affect him into next season or beyond, because he’s a future star and a building block for Washington.
25. Atlanta Falcons (4-5, LW: 22)
The Falcons were a playoff team last week, which pretty much proves that the NFL’s playoff expansion wasn’t a good idea. Not that Atlanta can’t compete for a playoff spot, but being down 36-3 at halftime says they’re probably not going to make it.
24. Chicago Bears (3-6, LW: 23)
Robert Quinn looked like a big-money disappointment last season. He had just two sacks in 15 games after signing a $70 million deal. This year has been a lot better. Quinn has 6.5 sacks, recording at least a half-sack in six of his eight games this season.
23. Denver Broncos (5-5, LW: 18)
Broncos coach Vic Fangio actually had to affirm that he wouldn’t bench Teddy Bridgewater over Bridgewater’s effort on Darius Slay’s fumble return for a touchdown. That’s a little much. Bridgewater admitted he wasn’t happy seeing that play on film, but questioning Bridgewater’s commitment and wondering if he should be benched is pretty ridiculous.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6, LW: 25)
The Eagles have gone from a team that ignored the running game to one of the most run-heavy teams in the league. They ran for 214 yards on a Broncos defense that a week earlier shut down the Cowboys. Whatever works.
21. Seattle Seahawks (3-6, LW: 20)
Russell Wilson said his finger felt fine, but it’s hard to believe that. Wilson had 10 off-target incompletions according to ESPN Stats & Information, his most since 2019. He averaged 3.3 air yards on completions, the fourth-lowest of his career, and he was 2-of-15 with two interceptions on passes 10 or more yards downfield. Maybe Wilson just happened to have an uncharacteristically bad game on all downfield passes in his first game back after finger surgery, but that’s hard to believe it was a coincidence.
20. Carolina Panthers (5-5, LW: 24)
Sunday was fun and Cam Newton’s return touchdown with the “I’m back!” proclamation was a great moment. But now it appears Newton will be starting and it has to be stated that last season he struggled mightily to throw the ball. We’ll see if some time off helped that.
19. San Francisco 49ers (4-5, LW: 21)
The 49ers had perfect execution of a good plan on Monday night. It’s nice to say you want to run the ball 40 times, but that doesn’t happen without a good game script and picking up timely third downs. The 49ers did everything right on Monday, and now we have to see if they can carry that over.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3-1, LW: 15)
The good news is T.J. Watt’s MRI for knee and hip injuries was negative. But that doesn’t guarantee he’ll play in Week 11. The Steelers aren’t the same defense when Watt isn’t on the field.
17. Las Vegas Raiders (5-4, LW: 14)
The lone bright spot for the Raiders on Sunday night was Bryan Edwards, who had 88 yards and a touchdown. The Raiders need Edwards, a 2020 third-round pick, to be a consistent playmaker especially after losing Henry Ruggs.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4, LW: 16)
The Bengals had a good week. The Ravens, Steelers and Browns lost while Cincinnati had a bye. The Bengals’ upcoming schedule isn’t easy, but the good news is nobody seems interested in running away with the division.
15. Minnesota Vikings (4-5, LW: 19)
Justin Jefferson needs more targets. The Vikings are 3-1 in games in which he gets 10 targets, and should have been 4-0 (the loss was at Arizona when Minnesota missed a 37-yard field goal at the end). That means they’re 1-4 in games that Jefferson doesn’t get double-digit targets. The one win was a last-second win over the winless Lions. This is not a coincidental trend: The Vikings’ first priority each week needs to be getting Jefferson the ball as often as possible, because he’s one of the best receivers in the NFL. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out.
14. Cleveland Browns (5-5, LW: 13)
Try to figure out the Browns. Their last three games on offense: 10 points, then 45 against Cincinnati, then 7 on Sunday. The defense has allowed 16 or fewer points in five of 10 games … but also have allowed 47, 45 and 37 points in losses. How do you make any sense of the Browns?
13. Indianapolis Colts (5-5, LW: 17)
Before Monday’s game, Jonathan Taylor had an NFL-best 1,240 yards from scrimmage. Only two others were over 1,000: Derrick Henry at 1,091, and he might be done for the season, and Cooper Kupp at 1,014. If the Colts get on a nice run to make the playoffs and Kupp cools down at all, Taylor will have a good argument for offensive player of the year.
12. Los Angeles Chargers (5-4, LW: 12)
Through five games, the Chargers were 4-1 and Mike Williams had 31 catches for 471 yards and six touchdowns. He was averaging 10.2 targets per game. Since then Williams has 10 catches, 137 yards, no touchdowns and is averaging 5.25 targets per game. The Chargers are 1-3 in those games.
11. New Orleans Saints (5-4, LW: 11)
Trevor Siemian played pretty well in a close loss and there’s no reason for Sean Payton to make a change before next week. The Saints might have won this if it weren’t for a horrible roughing the passer penalty that negated a New Orleans interception.
10. New England Patriots (6-4, LW: 10)
Mac Jones had a three-interception game in Week 3, and he has a 103 passer rating in the seven games since. Dak Prescott holds the record for a rookie passer rating at 104.9. The Patriots have won four in a row and look really good. Remember, quarterbacks always win awards if there’s even a slight question. Ja’Marr Chase’s hold on the favorite spot for offensive rookie of the year might not last much longer, and there’s not much he can do about it.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (6-4, LW: 9)
Everything was good for the Chiefs on Sunday. Patrick Mahomes was patient and carved up the Raiders. Tyreek Hill looked healthy and explosive. Travis Kelce punished the Raiders underneath. Darrel Williams gave Kansas City an added dimension it needs. The defense was very good. Now we have to see if the Chiefs are ready to play like this every week, or if that was a one-week spike.
8. Baltimore Ravens (6-3, LW: 6)
Let’s be clear: Nobody has (or will) “figure out” Lamar Jackson. But the Dolphins had an interesting plan. According to Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun, Miami used “Cover 0″— blitzing heavily with no deep safety — on 31 of Jackson’s 50 dropbacks. Shaffer pointed out the Bengals used “Cover 0” against the Ravens six times and had a lot of success. The Ravens will see more of it after Miami won. And Baltimore will adjust.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3, LW: 4)
It’s concerning to come off a bye, after losing to a Trevor Siemian-led Saints team, to get thoroughly outplayed by a team that was 2-6 coming in. Nothing was good. There was no running game, Tom Brady was far from great, and when the defense needed a stop it gave up a 19-play, 10:26 drive that ended in a game-clinching touchdown. It doesn’t mean the Bucs won’t be a great team from here on out, but that loss is concerning.
6. Los Angeles Rams (7-3, LW: 3)
The loss to the Titans, when there were two interceptions on back-to-back plays, was bad but a bit fluky. What happened on Monday night, getting absolutely outclassed for four quarters by a scuffling 49ers team, was a lot worse.
5. Buffalo Bills (6-3, LW: 8)
The Bills can look really good at times, which makes their bad games so frustrating. Seeing Stefon Diggs put up 162 yards might be the best news from their blowout win.
4. Dallas Cowboys (7-2, LW: 5)
Well, that loss to the Broncos looks like an outlier. The Cowboys were great on offense, stifling on defense and even got a special teams touchdown off a blocked punt. Next week’s game against the Chiefs will be highly entertaining.
3. Tennessee Titans (8-2, LW: 2)
In the two games since Derrick Henry’s injury, the Titans have 55 rushing attempts for 135 yards. That’s 2.45 yards per attempt. If we didn’t know how great Henry was before, we do now.
2. Arizona Cardinals (8-2, LW: 1)
It’s not easy to win without Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and Chase Edmonds, among others. It would have been better to see a bit more fight in the loss to Carolina, but it’s not as bad as some of the other recent losses by contenders due to the injury situation.
1. Green Bay Packers (8-2, LW: 7)
Russell Wilson didn’t look healthy, but that doesn’t mean the Packers defense doesn’t deserve credit. The Seahawks hadn’t been shut out since 2011, when Wilson was playing for the University of Wisconsin. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry is doing a great job, especially considering the Packers aren’t fully healthy on defense. The reason the Packers are No. 1 this week is because in this league of failing contenders, the Packers have been the most reliable. Their only loss since Week 1 was a six-point loss at Kansas City with Jordan Love at quarterback. They were too low last week and that needed to be corrected.