Stephen Nover Free NFL Sunday Pick

On September 12, 2015, in Free Picks, NFL, by Stephen

Titans plus 3 at Buccaneers

Thanks to the pro debuts of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the Titans-Buccaneers Sunday matchup is semi-watchable. It’s also worth betting – if you’re backing the Titans.

Tennessee has opened the past two seasons with straight-up underdog road victories beating Pittsburgh, 16-9, in 2013 as 6-point ‘dogs and defeating Kansas City, 26-10, as 3-point ‘dogs last year.

Now the Titans draw a much easier opponent in the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has lost 17 of its past 19 games. The Buccaneers were 0-8 at Raymond James Stadium last year, going 2-6 against the spread (ATS). They lost straight-up all three times they were favored last season.

So how can the Buccaneers be favored against any NFL team? Because the oddsmaker views the Titans’ 2-14 record of a year ago and the Buccaneers being home so he goes on near auto-pilot to install Tampa Bay as a field goal favorite.

It’s wrong. The Buccaneers have one of the weakest home fields in the NFL failing to cover in 13 of their last 19 matchups at Raymond James Stadium. Tennessee is much better than its record of a year ago. That was an aberration. The Titans averaged 7.3 wins per year during the previous three seasons before 2014.

The Titans’ 2014 season really ended in Game 5 when they blew a 25-point home lead to the Browns. The Titans had that game safely won until starting quarterback Jake Locker got hurt. From then on the Titans were forced to go the rest of the season with Charlie Whitehurst, one of the worst backup quarterbacks in the league, and sixth-round rookie Zach Mettenberger.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt is a quarterback guru, but he realized the Titans’ best course was to semi-tank,which they did landing Heisman Trophy winner Mariota.

The Buccaneers, being equally bad as the Titans last year, landed their potential franchise quarterback in Winston. Mariota’s Oregon Ducks destroyed Winston and Florida State in the Rose Bow, 59-20.

OK, that was college. What about now? Mariota still holds a strong edge. He looked much better and ahead of the learning curve than Winston during preseason completing 70 percent of his throws. Winston hit on less than 50 percent of his passes and was sacked seven times.

From Jeff Fisher to Mike Munchak to Whisenhunt the Titans always have taken a lot of pride in their offensive line. Tampa Bay has a very bad offensive line. The Buccaneers will be starting a record five players on offense who are 22 years old or younger, including two rookie linemen.

The Titans have the defensive brain power to capitalize on this stunning youth with Dick LeBeau, the long-time legendary Steelers’ defensive coordinator. Part of LeBeau’s lore comes from this: Defenses under LeBeau are 26-3 against rookie quarterbacks with a 37-to-24 interception-to touchdown pass ratio since 1995.

The Titans upgraded their pass rush signing three-time Pro Bowl selection Brian Orakpo. Winston doesn’t have a lot of experience going against 3-4 defenses and his offensive line is likely to have problems dealing with LeBeau’s assorted blitz packages.

Winston may not have his best receiver either as Mike Evans is a game-time decision due to a hamstring injury.

I don’t like the Titans’ ground attack. But Mariota is highly mobile and has a number of underrated wide receivers in steady Kendall Wright, tight end Delanie Walker and intriguing rookie 6-foot-5, 237-pound Dorial Green-Beckham, who reminds me of Randy Moss.

Field goals could come into play here and the Titans hold an edge there with veteran Ryan Succop. The Titans did not miss a field goal during preseason while Tampa Bay went 4-for-9 in field goals in preseason. The Bucs are going with an untested kicker in undrafted rookie, Kyle Brindza.


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