The last two teams in the NFL to get a week off – the Titans and the Browns – are in vastly different situations. Tennessee should benefit from a very late bye, getting extra time to prepare and get healthy for their playoff push, while the Browns are just looking forward to the season ending, and hoping to pick up a win before it is all said and done.
What should we expect from these teams when they return to the field?
The Titans must be a frustrating team to hope for. They rebounded from a 1-3 start to reach their Week 13 bye at .500, firmly in contention in the grim AFC South. But this team has shown flashes of brilliance and you can’t help but feel like they should own the division lead outright. While they have a few wins over bad teams (Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Chicago), they also have victories over solid squads (Detroit, Miami, and Green Bay). It’s those performances that make their 0-2 record against division rival Houston all the more infuriating. (They’ve also fallen to Minnesota, Oakland, and San Diego).
In general, the Titans run the ball well and have a decent passing game, especially of late and especially in the red zone (where Marcus Mariota has still yet to throw an interception). The offense as a whole is an above average unit that can beat you in multiple ways, but the defense is below the NFL norm and not trending in the right direction.
While coach Mike Mularkey is in his first full season as head coach of the Titans, he’s been around the game for ages and has a mixed record when it comes to post-bye weeks. He was on staff with Tennessee the last two years when the Titans lost following their bye. As the head man with the Bills more than a decade ago, he went 1-1 after a bye. And in his lone season with Jacksonville in 2012, the Jags lost in overtime following the week off.
Tennessee will host the Broncos when they return to action in Week 14 and then travels to Kansas City in Week 15. The offense has been rolling of late, but the next two opponents are defensive-minded and experienced and Mularkey doesn’t inspire confidence as a head coach. The Titans haven’t proven they can score against the league’s top defenses yet and, until they do, I’m inclined to bet against them.
There aren’t many nice ways to frame an ugly picture. The Browns are 0-12 and have rarely been competitive. It’s worth mentioning that the organization is united in its play to acquire draft picks and undergo a slow and sound rebuild, but that doesn’t help much right now. Season highlights include a six-point OT setback in Miami, a narrow 28-26 defeat in Tennessee, and a 31-28 home loss to the Jets. But none of those came after Week 8 and the Browns are only getting worse as the season rolls on. They’ve lost their last four by an average of 18.75 points.
While the Browns have promising pieces on both sides of the ball, you can blame the the offense and defense equally for the winless season. Both are bottom-five in the league.
As a team, Cleveland has lost four of its last five following a week of a rest. Is there any hope things will be different under first-year head coach Hue Jackson? As an assistant in Cincinnati the last four seasons, Jackson’s Bengals went 2-2 after byes. During his one year as head coach of the Raiders (2011), Oakland lost 38-24 at home to Denver.
The Browns, who host the Bengals in Week 14, have yet to cover any of their six home games. It is hard to back Cleveland against any team still in contention; the recent lopsided losses have all come against quality teams (the Cowboys, Ravens, Steelers, and Giants). But getting a bunch of points against fellow also-rans may benefit the Browns, who should be eager to avoid an 0-16 campaign.
The public won’t back the Browns and sportsbooks know it, meaning spreads will be inflated; as hard as it might be to stomach, they will probably be the right side to support in Week 14 against Cincy.
Photo credit: Mario957 [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode] via Wikimedia Commons.
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