This season’s scoring explosion may test the theory that “defense wins championships” in the NFL. Some fantastic offenses are already assured of having very high seeds in the playoff brackets.
But defense hasn’t tapped out yet. At the very least, it could have a chance to play spoiler once the postseason begins. Two defensive-minded AFC South contenders square off Monday night when the Tennessee Titans (5-5) visit the Houston Texans (7-3) to fight over Thanksgiving Weekend’s final bite of dessert (ESPN, 8:15 p.m.).
Nobody wants to run into these defenses in January…
Drive Points-per-Game: Tennessee #1, Houston #5
Points-per-Game: Tennessee #2, Houston #5
Yards-per-Game: Tennessee #9, Houston #7
Yards-per-Rush: Tennessee #6, Houston #4
Yards-per-Pass Tennessee #12, Houston #5
Takeaways: Tennessee #25, Houston #7
Those were the rankings entering Week 12. Drive Points are those allowed on drives of 60 yards or more, something we’ve been monitoring for you at VSiN throughout the season.
Both the Titans and Texans are elite at keeping opponents from lighting up the scoreboard. You do start to see some weaknesses for Tennessee at the bottom of our list. The Titans are more prone to give up passing yards in the middle of the field. And, their “keep everything in front of them” approach really limits their takeaway potential.
Houston’s been the more “forceful” of the two defenses when you include the takeaway dynamic. That’s why it’s in the driver’s seat to win this division.
It’s also a big part of why Houston will close as almost a touchdown favorite Monday night. That forceful defense will get to attack a banged-up Marcus Mariota or struggling backup Blaine Gabbert.
Is it worth thinking about either of these teams in futures prices to win the AFC? Better to pick your spots with defense-first teams as one-game value bets rather than asking them to run the table vs. quality. Tennessee is a solid 6-2 against the spread this season as an underdog. Houston is 2-1 ATS as a dog in fewer opportunities.
If things start to click for Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson, THEN you can think about taking a flyer on Houston. Time for that. Particularly if he can string together wins to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs. Should Texas beat Tennessee to move to 8-3, this remaining schedule could get the Texans to 12-4: vs. Cleveland, vs. Indianapolis, at the NY Jets, at Philadelphia, vs. Jacksonville.
It’s already clear that most media hype the rest of the way is going to focus on records all the high-octane offenses are setting. The public WANTS to bet those teams making headlines. That might give you some “free points” in the line come January. Use Monday’s Texans/Titans game as a trigger to start thinking about contrarian strategies that involve elite defenses.
Even if we’re entering an evolutionary phase where defense won’t win championships, it’s still going to win a lot of bets!