It’s a battle of hot and cold teams fighting for postseason positioning tonight as the 49ers travel to Tennessee for the final Thursday Night Football matchup of the year. The 49ers have averaged over 28 points per game over their last four. Meanwhile, the Titans have averaged under 15. The Titans currently sit a game up on the Indianapolis Colts for first place in the AFC South, while the Niners sit two games back of both the LA Rams and Arizona Cardinals for first place in the NFC West. Both of these teams likely feel as though tonight is a must-win game.
With what I just said, you’re probably thinking that the 8-6 49ers should be able to handle the Titans (9-5) easily. Furthermore, while the Niners are dealing with some injury trouble, between starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw out and his backup Azeez Al-Shaair questionable — as well as starting halfback Elijah Mitchell out for this game — the Titans are in an arguably worse position. Tennessee will be playing without two of their starting OKendall Lamm-linemen. Both Taylor Lewan and Roger Saffold will be on the sideline watching backups and Aaron Brewer try to limit Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. That’s frightening if you’re a Titans fan.
Not to mention, Titans’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill has looked mediocre at best without Derrick Henry in the backfield. Ever since Henry suffered his foot injury in Week 8, Tannehill has thrown only four touchdowns in the six games since. To put that in perspective, he threw as many interceptions in Week 11 against the Texans. He threw four interceptions against the Texans! Yes, I understand they’re not a bad team in regards to creating turnovers. They have a net zero turnover margin on the season after all, but FOUR interceptions? That’s more than the Texans have had all season.
The Titans do have something going for them though. The Niners have to travel to the Central Time Zone for this game. Historically, the 49ers have not been a good team in this area. Between 1966 and 2015, the 49ers held a record of 68-72-2 in the time zone. That’s their worst win percentage of any time zone during that span.
West Coast teams in general tend to struggle mightily when having to fly east. Since 2003, West Coast teams have just a 40.8 win percentage on the road against East Coast teams. While Tennessee isn’t quite on the East Coast, the point still stands. West Coast teams don’t fare well when their clocks get pushed ahead by a few hours.
While the 49ers are healthier, hotter, and have a better all-around roster at the moment, the Titans are a tough team to diagnose. Sure, they lost to the Texans and Jets, but they also nearly shut out the Kansas City Chiefs and dominated the Rams on Sunday Night Football two weeks later. Yes, the Titans are in the middle of a cold streak, but you know the thing about streaks right? Eventually, they snap. The Titans are fighting to stay atop their division, so if there was ever a time to show the world you mean business heading into the playoffs, it would be now. Sure, they could wait until Derrick Henry returns (looking less likely by the day though) to get back into a groove, but by then, it might be too late.