The Burning Question: What happens to the Titans with Derrick Henry out for the season?
Welcome to The Burning Question, where three of our NFL experts give their thoughts on a big talking point coming out of the past week’s football action.
The Titans earned a huge win over the Colts to move to 6-2, top of the AFC standings and three games clear of the Colts in the AFC South. However, all of that was tainted on Monday morning after it was revealed that star running back Derrick Henry had a foot injury that would require surgery, effectively ending his season. So, what now for Tennessee? Is that the end of their Super Bowl hopes, or can the team rally and Ryan Tannehill lead them to glory? Will the Titans even win the AFC South, or does this open the door for the Colts?
Our NFL experts — Jared Smith, Andrew Ortenberg and Andrew Wilsher — give their thoughts on what happens next to the Titans.
Jared Smith: Pray for Ryan Tannehill, time to hedge on Indy
In three years as the starter in Nashville, this has been Tannehill’s worst in terms of rating and efficiency. It’s somewhat surprising considering the team added Julio Jones in the offseason, but offensive coordinator Arthur Smith bolted to become the head coach of the Falcons, and Jones has missed some time with various injuries. Now without Henry, the onus really does now fall on Tannehill’s shoulders.
The Titans have a 3.5-game lead over the Colts with 9 games to play, certainly a healthy cushion, but not insurmountable by any stretch. Tennessee’s next four games include matchups against the Rams, Saints and Patriots, three of the best defenses in the league. They also play the Texans during that stretch, and if Tannehill can emerge 2-2 from that gauntlet, things get much softer for them down the stretch, and I think Tennessee can retain its lead in the division.
However, if you’re holding a ticket for the Titans to win the AFC South, like we have been since the preseason, this is a good week to hedge Colts +1000 and cover both bets without cutting too much into your win equity. I’m expecting Tennessee to lose to the Rams on Sunday and the Colts are double-digit favorites against the Jets, so these odds could be cut in half by next week.
Find out more NFL futures insight from Jared Smith in his Back to the Futures column!
Andrew Ortenberg: The door is open, just a crack, for the Colts
Fortunately for the Titans, they’ve earned themselves quite the leash. They’re three games up on the Colts and have the tiebreaker as well, so it’s essentially a four-game lead. But I remain a bit skeptical of this Tennessee team. With Henry out, teams will no longer be loading up the box left and right to stop the run. Life suddenly just became a lot more difficult for Ryan Tannehill. It’s flying a bit under the radar with all the Henry talk, but Julio Jones also appears to be dealing with a significant hamstring injury.
He keeps re-aggravating the hamstring issue, and at the age of 32, that’s a very bad sign. Tannehill went from having A.J. Brown, Henry and Jones, to just having Brown. Meanwhile, the Colts have gone 3-2 in their last five games, with both losses coming in overtime to good teams. Indy is a huge favorite this week over the Jets and Tennessee is a big underdog to the Rams, so the lead will likely be down to two games after Week 9.
This is a 17-game season, and there’s still a lot of time left. I’m not saying it’s particularly likely, but I think it’s worth taking a nibble on some Colts division futures at 10/1 or better at some shops.
Andrew Wilsher: AFC South in the bag, but not much else
For most teams, an injury to your starting running back isn’t the end of the world. But the Titans aren’t like most teams. Simply put, their whole offense revolves around Henry, and this injury is as big a disaster as there can be in Tennessee. Sure, the addition of Julio Jones at receiver in the summer was a big one and Ryan Tannehill does have some strong weapons at his disposal, but the run game was the heart of this team and it is not something that Adrian Peterson or Jeremy McNichols will be able to replicate. Tannehill has had some success this year, but part of that has been down to defenses having to prepare for a Henry run on most downs.
Ultimately, I still expect the Titans to win the AFC South. They have a three-game lead over the Colts, and still get to play the Texans twice, the Jaguars and the Dolphins. But beyond that, I’m not holding out much hope. Their victory over the Bills last month was built around Henry and I was already somewhat sceptical of their record, given three of their wins had come by just three points. Sorry Tennessee, but I’d expect wildcard weekend to be the end of the road for you.