2002 Season NFL Football Past Picks

January 19, 2003

This pick was released to clients on December 31, 1969 at 9:00PM ET.

19

Tennessee at Las Vegas

Sunday 01/19 06:30 PM Eastern

4 units on Las Vegas -7.5 (-110) (risk 4 to return 7.64)  RESULT: WIN

TENNESSEE +7.5 AT OAKLAND
Both of these teams played as I expected last week. The Titans managed a very close win against an evenly-match Pittsburgh squad while the Raiders looked good in the first, third and fourth quarters of last week’s game and managed an impressive win against what most people felt was the hottest team in the league in the Jets.

The hottest team, statistically, is actually the Titans. They have won 11 of their last 12 games which is amazing. What’s more amazing is that they have done it without a lot of flash. They don’t get a lot of respect for what they have done as evidenced by a touchdown+ spread in this week’s game. Do they deserve more respect?

Probably not. The reason they haven’t gotten the attention is that despite the wins, this team is not that strong statistically, relatively speaking. They are very good but consider this: while each of the other three teams still in the playoffs just killed some teams this year, the Titan’s never blew anyone out in the regular season. Tennessee won by an average of only 2.7 points per game whereas Oakland, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia won their games by 9.5, 9.4 and 10.9 points, respectively. In that sense, this Titans team reminds me a little of Chicago from last year – won a lot of games but could have pretty easily been 8-8 instead of 11-5.

Let’s look a little deeper at Tennessee relative to the other three teams remaining. Their offense is slightly better than Tampa’s but they don’t have anything near Tampa’s defense to balance things out. The Titan offense is significantly worse than Oakland’s and Philadelphia’s. Oakland averages 28.1 points per game and Philly 25.9. Tennessee averages only 22.9. Tennessee grinds out just 3.8 yards per carry versus 4.3 and 4.5 for Oakland and Philly, respectively. Even though McNair gets a lot of deserved kudos, his team manages only 6.9 yards per pass versus 7.6 for Oakland. You see my point. Tennessee is a good well-rounded club but really doesn’t excel in enough places.

And, the matchup here is not a good one for Tennessee. The one area where the Titans do excel, rush defense (89 yards allowed per game) is the area that doesn’t matter against Oakland. Oakland’s pass offense is good enough to carry the team. They pass to set up the run. Of the four remaining teams, Tennessee has the worst pass defense (25th in the league!) which isn’t a good thing against Rich Gannon. That’s reason enough to like the Raiders.

But on top of that, Oakland does run the ball well when they choose to. They are averaging a very impressive 4.3 yards per carry and 111 yards per game on the ground. Again, their passing game opens up running opportunities. The net result is that by the fourth quarter, they have worn down both the secondary and defensive lines of their opponents.

Oakland is just too strong and too motivated. My power ratings give Oakland a significant edge at 2.5. We all know about their league-leading offense. But did you know their defense has allowed under 9 points per game in the last three? They allowed just 90.8 yards per game on the ground, making their run defense as good as Tennessee’s.

Oakland is far more motivated than Tennessee to win this game. Oakland understands that it is now or never for them this year. They have major age and salary-cap issues that kick in next year. And, they know how it feels to make it this far and lose. They lost a heartbreaker last year in the Conference Finals to New England in the snow and were beat by Baltimore as home favorites in the same situation as this two years ago.

On top of it all, the Titans are banged up. McNair is back on the injured list and Eddie George had to leave last week’s game with a concussion. His status is up in the air.

Oakland is stacked with veteran leadership with playoff and Super Bowl experience: Bill Romanowski, Rod Woodson, Jerry Rice, etc. These guys, who know that this year is their swan song, are preparing this team to make it to the big dance.

Oakland beat Tennessee 52-25 earlier this year. Both sides remember that, giving confidence to Oakland and fueling fears in Tennessee. Expect more of the same in this one.

Oakland covers the large spread.

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