NFL Week 9 Gamebreakers: Will Derrick Henry Carry the Titans to an Upset Over Chiefs?

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Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball as Jonathan Owens #36 of the Houston Texans defends during the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Carmen Mandato/Getty Images/AFP

The Tennessee Titans have quietly won five in a row to match the 5-2 record of the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC. The teams will meet Sunday night in an important game, but no matter what the Titans are doing at quarterback, they are going to run their offense through superstar running back Derrick Henry.

After a slow start to this season, Henry is averaging 129.6 rushing yards per game during the five-game winning streak. Henry has some of his best numbers against the Chiefs, and the Titans are 4-1 in the five meetings with Kansas City in the Henry era.

But Kansas City is a 13-point favorite in this matchup at the NFL odds boards. Can Henry lead the Titans to one of their biggest upsets and shake up this AFC race again?

Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Sunday, November 6, 2022 – 08:20 PM EDT at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium

Derrick Henry’s Past Success Against Kansas City

The Titans have been a nuisance for the Chiefs over the years. While Kansas City ultimately won the key matchup in the 2019 AFC Championship Game, the other four meetings since 2016 have all gone Tennessee’s way, even when it was unexpected.

  • In 2016, the Chiefs blew a 14-0 lead and lost 19-17 as a rookie Henry rushed for two touchdowns.
  • In the 2017 AFC Wild Card, the Chiefs blew a 21-3 halftime lead at home after Henry rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown.
  • In 2019, Patrick Mahomes was making his return from a kneecap injury, but Henry stole the show with 188 yards and two touchdowns in a wild 35-32 win after the Chiefs failed to execute some late field goals.
  • In 2021, the Titans were a 4-point underdog, but Henry threw a touchdown on the opening drive and the defense held Mahomes to a field goal in the most lopsided loss of his career as the Titans won 27-3.

Since that last meeting, which basically gave the Titans the No. 1 seed over Kansas City, the Chiefs have gone 20 straight games with a fourth-quarter lead or tie. No one has been able to demolish this team for four quarters the way the Titans did that day.

However, that one was not an explosive game for Henry. He finished with 29 carries for 86 yards. Two weeks later, he would miss half the season with a foot injury. But the real problem for Kansas City that day was defending Ryan Tannehill and the passing game. Tannehill was 21-of-27 for 270 yards and a touchdown. The Titans scored on their first five drives.

It remains the only game in Mahomes’ career where he never had a lead at any point. The Titans need a healthy Tannehill this week to pull off an upset.

Henry’s Role This Season

The Titans are a different offense this season and not for the better. The passing game took a big hit after trading away No. 1 wide receiver A.J. Brown, who is doing great things for the undefeated Eagles now. Veteran Robert Woods is barely giving the Titans more than they got from Julio Jones last year, who also did not return to the team in 2022.

This makes the Titans want to rely more on Henry, who is already the most relied-upon back in the NFL. But through Week 8, the Titans rank 31st in yards per drive. The team has not scored more than 24 points in any game this season. On the bright side, the Titans haven’t allowed more than 22 points in any game except the 41-7 blowout loss to Buffalo.

This has the Titans as your prototypical run-heavy, play-defense football team. It has led to five grinding wins in a row, but we know the Chiefs can score in bunches unlike most teams in NFL history.

Titans No Stranger to Being the Underdog

But the Titans are used to being underdogs in the Mike Vrabel era. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill (ankle/illness) missed his first game on Sunday since he became the starting quarterback in Tennessee. The Titans had to start rookie Malik Willis, which momentarily had the line change to making them the underdog in Houston.

But the Titans overcame Willis throwing one interception on 10 attempts by pounding Henry 32 times for 219 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-10 win that wasn’t as close as it sounds.

It was Henry’s fourth 200-yard rushing game in a row against Houston. He doesn’t own any other franchise that badly, but we have highlighted some of his past success with the Chiefs.

This also isn’t exactly a championship-caliber defense in Kansas City this year.

Kansas City’s Defense Is Vulnerable

The Chiefs may not be as well equipped to blow out the Titans the way Buffalo did. For one, the defenses are not equal. The Chiefs have allowed at least 20 points in 12 consecutive games going back to last year, which ties the longest streak in franchise history. The Chiefs have also allowed 17 touchdowns to three interceptions on pass defense.

Frank Clark is Kansas City’s second-most productive pass rusher this season, but he will be serving a two-game suspension starting this week and is out. If the Titans are going to throw a little more than usual, this might be the right matchup, but it will be tough if Tannehill isn’t 100%.

The Chiefs have faced the most pass attempts of any defense and the second-fewest runs. This is thanks to playing with the lead so often. But they are still a solid No. 7 in yards per carry allowed (4.7).

However, we have seen three teams in a row crack 100 rushing yards on the Chiefs, including a career night for Raiders’ back Josh Jacobs, who had a career-high 154 rushing yards as the Raiders nearly upset the Chiefs.

How Can the Titans Beat the Chiefs?

That Vegas game would be the perfect blueprint for the Titans to follow, assuming they did not copy the part where they forgot to cover Travis Kelce (four touchdowns) in the red zone. However, it’s not going to work without A.J. Brown, who could do what Davante Adams did to the secondary if he was still there.

The Titans can still run Henry when everyone is expecting it, but the Chiefs are a hard team to do this against when the game starts to get out of reach because of the points Mahomes is putting up.

This is what sort of happened in the 2019 AFC Championship Game. The Titans led 10-0 early, but the Chiefs took the lead at halftime, went up two scores early in the fourth quarter, and the team had to go to Tannehill and abandon Henry in a 35-24 loss. Henry finished that game with 69 yards on 19 carries.

Beating the Chiefs usually takes a full team effort. The 2022 Titans are not going to get it done just by getting a huge game out of Henry.

Titans vs. Chiefs: The Final Verdict

There are some records of note in this matchup as Mike Vrabel has been the Tennessee coach since 2018 and Mahomes became Kansas City’s full-time starting quarterback in the same season:

  • Since 2018, Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel is 13-4 ATS and 12-5 SU as an underdog of at least 4 points.
  • Since 2018, the Chiefs are 9-9-1 ATS and 17-2 SU as a double-digit favorite.

Having said that, this prediction comes with a caveat. If practice does not go well for Tannehill and the Titans end up starting Malik Willis on Sunday night, take the Chiefs to cover no matter the number. His inexperience at throwing would just have the Chiefs feasting in this matchup.

But if we assume Tannehill goes through more practice and it is just a pain tolerance issue, then we have a more realistic game. Still, the huge spread must be taking into consideration that Tannehill won’t be 100% and that ankle could limit his movement in the pocket.

The Chiefs have looked scary at times this year, but they also have more games with 40-plus points as they have games where the offense did not score more than 20 points. The 27 points against the Chargers include a fortunate pick-six after tight end Gerald Everett stumbled on his route from fatigue.

Teams that know the Chiefs well, like the Chargers, Raiders, and Bills, have shown they can look mortal at Arrowhead this year. We like to think the Titans are another team that knows this team well after three meetings since 2019, including that 27-3 demolition a year ago.

The Betting Picks

It is going to take a big game from Henry, a great effort from the pass rush, and Tannehill will have to convert some third downs and not be a pinata in the pocket. Even then, the Titans probably still lose.

But do they get embarrassed and fail to cover a two-touchdown spread? No, if Tannehill plays, think more like Chiefs in a 27-17 game. That means the Titans cover for your NFL picks.

Also look for King Henry to find the end zone in this one.

NFL Pick: Titans +13 (-120) at Bovada (visit our Bovada Review)

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Titans +13 (-120)
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NFL Pick: Derrick Henry Anytime Touchdown Scorer (Odds TBD) at Bovada

*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.