San Francisco 49ers vs. Tennessee Titans: Matchups, prediction between interconference playoff contenders

The San Francisco 49ers face the Tennessee Titans in a battle to maintain playoff positioning. Can they defeat a depleted Titans roster?

The San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans battle for playoff seeding in a Thursday Night Football game that will most likely mimic how Thursday night games usually go. It’ll undoubtedly be pandemonium when the time comes. It has all the fixin’s. Jimmy Garoppolo has played well in the second half of the season but always feels due to lose a linebacker in coverage and throw a hilarious interception. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill is finding out how difficult life is without his top weapons.

San Francisco 49ers offense vs. Tennessee Titans defense

The 49ers’ offense is incredibly interesting. They don’t press defenses vertically with any consistency, but they remain one of the most efficient passing attacks in the NFL because of their scheme and personnel.

They lead the league in yards after the catch per reception and are fifth in completed air yards per attempt. They’re built upon efficiency and run-after-the-catch ability.

San Francisco runs the ball incredibly well, too. They’re fifth in rushing expected points added per play (EPA), and their offensive line is stout. However, they’re only 12th in offensive points per drive and drive success rate. But that’s also peculiar, because they rank first in the red zone and don’t turn the ball over all that much, either.

Tennessee’s defense has probably overperformed a bit in 2021, but that is also based on our preseason perceptions of their roster. They rank 11th in EPA/play, 10th in success rate, and 13th in DVOA (Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric).

Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Titans defense

With the way Garoppolo is playing at the moment, it wouldn’t surprise me if he fetched the 49ers a first-round pick. He’s not asked to do much, but he’s played some of the best football of his career since returning from injury earlier in 2021.

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The Titans’ defense is good, and their safety play makes them particularly dangerous over the middle of the field. Still, Garoppolo has avoided the crippling turnovers well this season. He’s currently boasting the lowest interception rate of his career.

Advantage: Push

49ers skill position players vs. Titans secondary

Buster Skrine played well against Pittsburgh, and Kristian Fulton has had a good season, but Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk are impossible to truly defend. Samuel averages 9.6 yards after the catch despite having an average depth of target (aDOT) of 8.3.

Kittle averages 6.9 yards after the catch — of course a goofy tight end would produce to that precise measure. Aiyuk is no slouch either, averaging 5.7 yards after the catch. That’s difficult for any team to defend, and even a club like the Titans that misses so few tackles will have trouble.

Advantage: 49ers

49ers offensive line vs. Titans defensive front

The 49ers’ front five’s battle against the Titans’ defensive line will be the most significant unit matchup of the game and the one I most look forward to watching. Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, and Alex Mack have combined to allow just 4 sacks all season. There’s an argument to be made that Williams is the best player in football.

Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry are no slouches. In fact, they’re two of the better pass rushers at their respective positions. Denico Autry has contributed as well, posting 7 sacks this season as an interior rusher.

Advantage: Push

Tennessee Titans offense vs. San Francisco 49ers defense

The Titans’ offense fell apart after Derrick Henry’s injury. Tannehill is a fine quarterback, but he’s not in a tier so high that he’s able to carry a depleted roster to offensive success.

But the rushing attack hasn’t completely fallen off a cliff, either. They rank in the middle of the pack since Henry’s injury. However, the passing game ranks 26th in EPA/play and 28th in dropback EPA/play.

Meanwhile, somehow the 49ers’ defense has survived despite starting Josh Norman and rookie Ambry Thomas at corner during Emmanuel Moseley’s absence. They’re better against the run than the pass, but they rank 20th in defensive points per drive allowed.

That should improve against the Titans.

Ryan Tannehill vs. 49ers defense

Tannehill does not propose any unique threat to the 49ers’ defense. He hasn’t turned the ball over in the past three games, but he’s also thrown just 1 TD in that timeframe.

The 49ers’ defense isn’t necessarily intimidating, but it does feature Nick Bosa. It also boasts one of, if not the best coverage linebacker in the NFL in Fred Warner. Despite being a wide receiver for a time in college, Tannehill isn’t a QB that works much on the hoof, so he doesn’t often force defenses to account for a mobile element.

Advantage: Push

Titans skill position players vs. 49ers secondary

Julio Jones hasn’t been the player we remember from Atlanta. He’s unlikely to play on Thursday, but A.J. Brown — who was recently designated to return from injured reserve — could come back against the 49ers. Chester Rogers, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, and Geoff Swaim are Tannehill’s other weapons in the passing attack right now. The cupboard isn’t just bare — it’s been ripped off the wall and thrown into a dumpster.

The 49ers’ cornerbacks don’t hold a significant advantage over the Titans’ weapons, but having Warner patrol the middle at the second level helps their cause.

Advantage: 49ers

Titans offensive line vs. 49ers defensive front

When it rains, it pours. Tannehill avoided sacks well in 2020. In fact, he was only sacked 24 times last season. But in 2021, with receivers cycling in and out of the lineup, an offensive line struggling with pressure, and Tannehill refusing to get the ball out quicker, he’s seen disastrous results.

The 49ers’ defensive line isn’t outrageous. Bosa is in the top tier of NFL pass rushers, and Arik Armstead is a good player. Arden Key has been a surprising contributor this season, but he’s not an intimidating force.

Advantage: Push

Betting lines and game prediction

  • Spread: 49ers -3.5 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: 49ers -180, Titans +155
  • Total: 44.5

What does Las Vegas know that I don’t? The Titans’ offense has scored 13, 13, 20, and 13 points, respectively, in their last four games. I refuse to tell people how to gamble because I don’t like being responsible for the rise and fall of others’ wallets.

This is a three-unit game for me. In fact, it’s my first three-unit game since the Cardinals’ 7.5-point spread against the Chicago Bears in Week 13.

49ers vs. Titans Prediction: 49ers 28, Titans 17

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