While this weekend’s Cincinnati Bengals vs. Tennessee Titans matchup has somewhat flown under the radar with four great games in the Divisional Round, it could be the game that steals the headlines. In our Bengals at Titans preview, we will break down some key elements of the game before making an NFL betting prediction for who might be heading to the AFC Championship Game next week.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Tennessee Titans Preview
The Bengals and Titans currently sit in two of the bottom three spots in terms of odds to win Super Bowl 56. However, both teams head into the Divisional Round of the 2022 NFL playoffs with the opportunity to head to the AFC Championship Game.
For the Titans, it would be their second appearance in three years, with the opportunity to host the game if they win. Meanwhile, the Bengals broke a 31-year playoff winless streak last weekend and now have the chance to head to their first AFC Championship Game since their victory over the Buffalo Bills in 1988. Let’s preview three areas where this game between the Bengals and Titans could be won and lost before making a prediction for how we see the contest going.
The Bengals have to be better in the red zone this week
Cincinnati nearly paid for their sloppiness in the red zone against the Raiders in the Wild Card round. The Bengals were dominant for a large stretch of the game. Still, Cincy’s inability to find the end zone allowed the Raiders to stay within a touchdown before Las Vegas launched a furious comeback that ultimately fell short.
It started well for the Bengals, as they scored a touchdown on their first drive. However, they got inside the red zone twice on their next two drives and could only come away with 6 points in total. They would find the end zone before the half, but they’d be stymied again in the red zone with a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, Cincinnati held on, but the warning bells should be ringing. The Raiders allowed a league-worst 80% touchdown conversion rate inside the red zone. The Bengals could only find the end zone on 40% of their red-zone trips. That is a major concern heading into this weekend against the Titans.
Tennessee is the seventh-best defense in terms of red-zone conversion rate. They allowed touchdowns on just 51.7% of red-zone trips this season. That helped the Titans to have the sixth-ranked scoring defense in the league. Additionally, their offense has capitalized in the red zone this year, ranking fifth with a 63.9% conversion rate. That is significantly better than the Raiders (51.7%) and emphasizes the step up in quality the Bengals will face this weekend.
Is the return of Derrick Henry paramount for the Titans?
Getting one of the most productive ball carriers in the NFL back in the playoffs is always important. However, the Titans’ running game largely fared reasonably well without Derrick Henry in the second half of the season. According to Pro Football Network’s Offensive Value Metric (OVM), the Titans’ rushing attack was effective without Henry, whose performances had actually been declining prior to his injury.
What Henry provides to the offense will depend on how healthy he actually is. If the Titans have rushed him back and he is not at full strength, his return could actually have a detrimental effect. In two of his last three games before the injury, Henry’s OVM grades were lower than the average produced by the Titans’ RB room without him in the second half of the season.
The Titans’ offense appeared to take some time to adjust after Henry’s injury. After Henry was injured in Week 8, Tennessee struggled. They held their own in Weeks 9 and 10 in defeating the Rams and Saints. However, between Week 11 and 14, they had 13 turnovers in four games.
Subsequently, the Titans appeared to adjust and didn’t commit a single turnover, closing out the season 3-0 to secure the AFC South and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. There was a wobble as they adjusted to life without Henry, but the offense did not completely tank without their star.
Shutting down Ja’Marr Chase early is crucial for the Titans
The Titans cannot afford to allow Ja’Marr Chase to get off to the start he did against the Raiders. That allowed Joe Burrow to settle in, and it opened up the Bengals’ offense to spread the ball around. Chase was targeted 4 times with 3 receptions for 37 yards on the opening touchdown drive. On each of their first three second-down plays in the game, Burrow went to Chase and moved the chains every single time.
Chase provided two further chain-moving plays on second down early in the second quarter. He also provided a crucial carry for 15 yards on a fourth-and-1 situation in the second quarter that led to the Bengals’ second touchdown.
While the success of a pass catcher is not always indicative of a team’s performance as a whole, the Bengals are 5-1 when Chase has 100 or more receiving yards in a game. The rookie WR has quickly become a key part of this offense. The Titans need a plan for containing him without compromising their entire defense.
Bengals vs. Titans betting line and game prediction
- Spread: Titans -3.5 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings)
- Moneyline: Bengals +155; Titans -180
- Total: 47.5
The spread for this game shows just how in the balance this game really is. Even with home-field advantage, the Titans are only favorites by just over a field goal in most places. That both demonstrates the belief sportsbooks are showing in the Bengals and the relative lack of belief they have in the Titans, despite them being the No. 1 seed.
Both of these teams have been tough to judge this year. The Titans have battled through multiple injuries to clinch that No. 1 seed, but they needed the help of the Bengals — beating the Chiefs — to achieve it. The Bengals, meanwhile, have made the mistakes that you would expect from young teams. Turnovers have proven particularly costly, with the Bengals yet to win a game this season where they turned the ball over 2+ times.
One key to this game could be the discipline of the two teams. We saw a lack of discipline cost the Cowboys during Wild Card Weekend. The Bengals are one of the least penalized teams this season, averaging just 4.4 penalties per game for 37.6 yards per game. In contrast, the Titans have been penalized 6.1 times per game on average, with an average yardage count of 57.2 yards per game.
That could prove crucial in a game as close as this one. This week’s play is taking the underdog with 3.5 points in what is expected to be a tight and tense game in Tennessee. My personal lean is to the Bengals winning the game outright, but taking the points gives you that margin for error if they lose a close one.
Bengals vs. Titans Prediction: Bengals 27, Titans 24