The last two Thursday night games have been two of the highest-scoring games in the NFL. The Chiefs and Chargers combined to score 62 points, while the Vikings and Steelers put up 64 points the week prior.
We’ve seen plenty of near upsets this season on Thursday night, as well as some head-scratchers (the Dolphins beating the Ravens). So, what will we see tonight?
The 49ers are 3-point favorites over at DraftKings SportsBook. That line dropped a half-point since Monday, which might indicate the Titans have A.J. Brown active. The total on the game is 44.5, and I’m not sure we get there.
Here are a few reasons why the 49ers will beat the Titans tonight.
Too much star power
Despite missing three games, George Kittle has been one of the most valuable pass-catchers, not limited to tight ends, pass-catchers, in the NFL. If we cite Sports Info Solutions “total points earned,” which is a lot like wins above replacement stat, Kittle has earned one fewer point than Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce, despite having at least 20 fewer targets than both players.
Outside of quarterback, there isn’t a player who has earned more points offensively than Deebo Samuel, who is four points ahead of Davante Adams and two points in front of Jonathan Taylor.
Brandon Aiyuk had a slow start, but, to give you an idea of where he’s listed, he’s tied with DK Metcalf and just behind CeeDee Lamb.
Trent Williams is ninth among all offensive linemen in total points earned. So, offensively, the 49ers have four players at critical positions who are among the tops in the NFL at adding value on offense.
The star power has carried the load during the past two months. Since Week 8, no offense in the NFL has generated more passing plays over 20 yards than the 49ers. In fact, The Niners have five more than the Packers, who rank second.
Because of Deebo, San Francisco also ranks fifth in running plays that have gone for 15 yards or more during that same stretch. This is how Kyle Shanahan envisioned his offense. A few drives a game that takes at least six minutes off the clock, with chunk plays mixed in throughout the game.
The Titans are physical, tough, aggressive, and violent on defense. That shows up when they stop the run, but it’ll impact Tennessee’s ability to contain the 49ers through the air.
Last week against the Steelers, the Titans benefitted from Big Ben. He looked terrified of getting hit and wasn’t interested in hanging in the pocket. For as much criticism as Jimmy Garoppolo receives, that’s one of his greatest strengths. The week prior, the Titans faced the Jaguars.
In the three games before, against the Patriots, Texans, and Saints — three offenses that you wouldn’t confuse with juggernauts — the Titans gave up a combined passing DVOA of 54.4%. In DVOA terms, for defense, the lower the number, the better.
For reference, since Week 8, the 49ers' passing offense has been averaging 55.7% DVOA. And you know how well they’ve played during the past two months. So this is a giant mismatch in San Francisco’s favor.
Part of the reason is due to who the Titans play in the secondary. Remember the name, Greg Mabin? He was on the field for 27% of the snaps against the Steelers. Kristian Fulton is a solid player, but Buster Skrine is a liability on the opposite side of Fulton and somebody the 49ers should attack early and often.
The Titans do an excellent job of taking away tight ends, but they’re one of the worst teams in the NFL at slowing down receivers on the outside. So this could be a breakout game for Brandon Aiyuk.
I’ve noticed when watching the Titans that their over-aggressiveness comes back to bite them. Linebackers Rashaan Evans and Zac Cunningham are overly concerned about the run, vacating zones behind them on play-action. So I’m expecting Kyle Shanahan to spam the Titans with play-action passes.
Since Week 8, per RBSDM, the Titans EPA per dropback allowed ranks sixth at -0.056. However, against play-action, they’re not nearly as impressive. Tennessee has allowed 0.04 EPA per play against play-action. The Titans have been stingy through the air, only allowing 20 passing touchdowns. That’s tied with the 49ers along with two other teams for the fewest in the NFL. However, five of those have come via play-action.
The defensive line continues to destroy their opponent
The Titans will be without Taylor Lewan (11 starts at left tackle) and Rodger Saffold (13 starts at left guard) against a defensive line that’s second in the NFL in adjusted line yards when you run to the offense’s left and has skyrocketed to fourth in adjusted sack rate.
That is ... not ideal for the Titans team that was already third-worst in the NFL in adjusted sack rate. Akash highlighted this matchup in-depth earlier. The 49ers come at you with speed, athleticism, power, and a superstar rusher.
Kendall Lamm will replace Lewan. He’s started one game while appearing in six others this season and has a blown block rate of 7.6 with a sack percentage allowed of 5.9%. Nick Bosa has to be licking his chops. For reference, Tom Compton’s blown block rate is 3.6%, while Daniel Brunskill’s is 3.2%.
Update: It looks like Lamm is out, too:
Aaron Brewer steps in for Saffold Brewer, a swing lineman that primarily plays center. He’s fared better than Lamm in his 394 snaps in four starts this season. Brewer’s blown block rate is lower at 2.8%, but he’s given up five sacks in four starts.
San Francisco trots out a lineup with Bosa-Key-Armstead-Ebukam, and this NASCAR package has been why we don’t talk about the cornerback play more than we do. They’re superb and will overwhelm Ryan Tannehill en route to a 49er win, even with A.J. Brown active.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.