The Tennessee Titans look to climb back into the playoff picture when they host the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night.
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Dallas Cowboys (11-4) @ Tennessee Titans (7-8)
- Location: Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN
- Time: Thursday, December 29th at 8:15 p.m. ET
- Channel: Amazon Prime
- SPREAD: DAL -10
- OVER/UNDER: 40.5
- MONEYLINE: DAL (-480), TEN (+360)
This week’s Thursday Night Football game pits two teams going in opposite directions. The Cowboys are already locked into the postseason and have a shot at the NFC’s number one seed, while the Titans rebounded from an 0-2 start to the season by winning seven of their next eight games. Since then, they’ve lost five straight and are now underdogs to win the division and make the playoffs.
Perhaps even more noteworthy for viewers on Thursday is that this game is essentially meaningless for Tennessee. Regardless of the outcome of this game, the Titans will play the Jaguars in Week 18 for the AFC South crown. The winner will make the playoffs.
While there is an infinitesimally small chance that the Titans can beat the Cowboys and lose to the Jaguars and get into the postseason, Tennessee’s playoff hopes basically rest on the outcome of Week 18. Given that, and this game being on a short week this late in the season, the Titans decided to rest key starters and will likely cut back on the workloads of others to keep them healthy for the final game.
As of Wednesday afternoon, we know that the Titans will rest defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons, safety Amani Hooker, offensive tackle Nicholas Petit Frere, and linebackers Bud Depree, and Zach Cunningham. Derrick Henry is also listed as doubtful for the contest, which makes sense since he was benched three years ago in a similar situation.
What also know is that there is no chance Tennessee gets back starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill after he had surgery on his ankle. There’s a chance he could return if the team makes the playoffs, but it’s far more likely that the team will have to rely on raw rookie Malik Willis if they get there.
It’s potentially for that reason that Willis is not starting on Thursday night, as Tennessee decided to roll with Josh Dobbs instead. While the decision could be to save Willis from injury, it’s also an indication that the rookie is not an NFL-caliber passer at this point in his career.
So far in 2022, he has completed just 50.8% of passes and has zero touchdown passes to three interceptions. Last week, he threw for 99 yards and two interceptions in a loss to the Texans, which doesn’t bode well for his success against a strong Dallas defense.
Now, Dallas is 13th in completion percentage allowed and 14th in passing yards allowed per completion, so they can be beaten through the air, but Willis isn’t the guy to do it. Instead, Tennessee will be hoping to expose Dallas’ weakness against the run, where they rank 20th in opponent yards per carry.
Derrick Henry is having another phenomenal season, rushing for 1,429 yards and 13 touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry. He has also chipped in 379 receiving yards on 32 catches. Yet, it seems he won’t get any opportunities in an essentially meaningless game. That means the Titans will turn to rookie Hassan Haskins (11 rushes on the season), which inspires far less confidence.
On the other end of the spectrum, Dallas has every incentive to try to win this game. They are in a battle with the Eagles for the number one seed in the NFC and, if Jalen Hurts doesn’t play this week, there’s a chance the Eagles could lose to the Saints and give the Cowboys a chance to steal the division and the top seed.
With Dak Prescott, coming off of a 347-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Eagles, the Cowboys figure to try to find the same type of success through the air against a Titans defense that has allowed 7.5 yards per pass attempt over their last three games and ranks 20th in completion percentage allowed and 23rd in yards per completion allowed on the season.
Tennessee has been much better on the ground, ranking 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per carry and rushing yards allowed per game. That will make it tough on Dallas’ two-headed monster of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, combining for 1,817 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground this season. However, Pollard did not practice at all during the week, and if it comes out that the Titans are planning to rest starters, the Cowboys may choose to allow him to rest for one week even if the current claim is that he will travel with the team and maybe play.
Regardless, the Cowboys would be heavy favorites normally, but if the Titans sit even more players it’s hard to see how they would have any chance here.
Cowboys 34 Titans 9
Top Player Props:
If you’re going to be betting on action besides the spread, here are three player props we like from Thursday night’s game:
Dak Prescott OVER 1.5 passing touchdowns
We already covered above that I think this will be a strong pass-game environment for Dak and Dallas. As a result, I can easily see him tossing two or three touchdowns, which makes me like this bet.
Where to bet: -130 on BetMGM
Ezekiel Elliott anytime touchdown scorer
Tony Pollard figures to sit this one out, and the Cowboys should dominate the game. That makes me think we’re going to see a lot of Ezekiel Elliott. With Tennessee also likely sitting some defensive starters, I like the idea that Zeke finds the end zone once in this one.
Where to bet: -110 at BetMGM