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The Titans Played To Their Opponents In 2016

The Tennessee Titans were weird last year. On paper, the toughest game of the season would have been a week 15 contest in Arrowhead Stadium. And, on paper, the easiest game of the year would be a week 6 home game against the Browns. And yet against both Kansas City and Cleveland, the Titans won by 2 points.

The Titans won one game by more than 14 points last year: would you have guessed it was a 22-point win over the NFC North Champion Packers? Perhaps even more surprising: Tennessee lost one game by double digits in 2016, a 38-17 thumping put on them by… the Jaguars?

It should go without saying that teams tend to play better against bad teams and worse against good teams. But the Titans were a pretty big outlier last year. The table below shows each of the Titans games last year. The table is sorted by the “SOS+HFA” column, which shows the home field adjusted team rating of each opponent. The Chiefs had an SRS rating of +5.6, so playing at Kansas City goes down as a +8.6. The Colts were at +0.2, so playing in Indianapolis is a +3.2, while hosting the Colts is at -2.8.

15@Kansas City Chiefs8.619172
11@Indianapolis Colts3.21724-7
9@San Diego Chargers3.13543-8
2@Detroit Lions1.516151
14Denver Broncos1.113103
5@Miami Dolphins0.6301713
3Oakland Raiders0.51017-7
4@Houston Texans0.22027-7
10Green Bay Packers-0.2472522
16@Jacksonville Jaguars-1.81738-21
1Minnesota Vikings-2.11625-9
7Indianapolis Colts-2.82634-8
12@Chicago Bears-4.627216
17Houston Texans-5.824177
8Jacksonville Jaguars-7.8362214
6Cleveland Browns-13.128262

As you can see, the margin column in the far right isn’t all that correlated with the “HFA+SOS” column. In fact, the correlation coefficient between the two columns is just -0.18. By comparison, the Houston Texans played very much to expectation last year. The correlation coefficient between Houston’s “HFA+SOS” column and the margin column is -0.77, meaning the Texans’ margin of victory was negatively correlated with the strength of their opponent.

Houston lost three games last year by double digits, and it came against three of the four toughest tests on the Texans schedule. Houston won just three games by a touchdown or more, and it came against 3 of the 4 easiest tests on Houston’s schedule. Again, that’s how things *should* happen:

3@New England Patriots12.3027-27
7@Denver Broncos7.1927-18
13@Green Bay Packers5.81321-8
5@Minnesota Vikings3.91331-18
11NOakland Raiders3.52027-7
14@Indianapolis Colts3.222175
2Kansas City Chiefs2.619127
17@Tennessee Titans2.01724-7
16Cincinnati Bengals-1.812102
10@Jacksonville Jaguars-1.824213
6Indianapolis Colts-2.826233
12San Diego Chargers-2.91321-8
4Tennessee Titans-4.027207
8Detroit Lions-4.520137
15Jacksonville Jaguars-7.821201
1Chicago Bears-10.623149

The table below shows the correlation coefficient for each team last year, measured from “closest to expectation” to “least predictable.”

1Houston Texans-0.77
2Cincinnati Bengals-0.74
3New Orleans Saints-0.69
4Chicago Bears-0.69
5Denver Broncos-0.69
6Oakland Raiders-0.68
7San Francisco 49ers-0.65
8Baltimore Ravens-0.64
9New York Giants-0.61
10Dallas Cowboys-0.59
11Carolina Panthers-0.58
12Atlanta Falcons-0.54
13Arizona Cardinals-0.53
14New York Jets-0.50
15Cleveland Browns-0.49
16Seattle Seahawks-0.48
17Miami Dolphins-0.47
18Philadelphia Eagles-0.46
19Jacksonville Jaguars-0.44
20Minnesota Vikings-0.44
21Detroit Lions-0.40
22Buffalo Bills-0.40
23Green Bay Packers-0.39
24Tampa Bay Buccaneers-0.38
25San Diego Chargers-0.35
26Pittsburgh Steelers-0.32
27Washington Redskins-0.32
28New England Patriots-0.31
29Kansas City Chiefs-0.29
30Indianapolis Colts-0.26
31Los Angeles Rams-0.20
32Tennessee Titans-0.18

In addition to the Titans, the Rams are another team that seemed to really play to their opponent. Los Angeles won in Arizona and in Tampa Bay, and beat the Seahawks… while also getting swept by the 49ers.

  • The Titans and Texans both went 9-7. Tennessee also got Miami and Cleveland (both wins) due to their 2015 record, while Houston got New England and Cincinnati (1-1). Houston beat Tennessee in week 4, and the division was wrapped up before the teams met again in week 17, a game Tennesee won. Exclude the AFCE/AFCN games, and the week 17 game, and TEN went 6-7 in those common games (plus the H2H game) while Houston went 8-5.

    Let’s review, and skip the AFC South for now:

    Chicago: Tennessee won by 6, Houston won by 9

    Denver: Tennessee won by 3, Houston lost by 18

    Detroit: Tennessee won by 1, Houston won by 7

    Green Bay: Tennessee won by 22, Houston lost by 8

    Kansas City: Tennessee won by 2, Houston won by 7

    Minnesota: Tennessee lost by 9, Houston lost by 18

    Oakland: Both lost by 7

    San Diego: Both lost by 8.

    The big story in non-AFC South games would be Tennessee doing much better against Denver and Green Bay than Houston.

    What about in AFC South games?

    Indianapolis: Tennessee lost by 7 and 8, Houston won by 3 and 5

    Jacksonville: Tennessee won by 14, lost by 21; Houston won by 3 and 1

    H2H: Tennessee won, 27-20

    So Tennessee going 1-4, compared to Houston’s 5-0 mark, obviously more than counters the +2 advantage the Titans had. It even was enough to overcome the Texans getting a Patriots game rather than a Browns game. The Colts and Jaguars were not very good, of course, so this is just a way of using words to explain the numbers above: the Titans were weird, beating the Packers and Broncos, but going 1-4 when it counted against the AFC South.

    • Adam

      Do you think this indicates a jump in wins for Tennessee in 2017? They’ve proven they can hang with playoff caliber teams, and you’d think their uninspired play against the bottom dwellers will improve.

      • That’s certainly one takeaway. The other would be that Tennessee wasn’t that good (see the games against bottom dwellers) but managed to play really well against a few good teams.

        I do think the additions of Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor in the draft, along with Eric Decker, help fix the lackluster receiver group. This should be a really interesting offense, and I think Mariota seems to have already arrived. The offense could be great, if the smashmouth stuff continues to work. And there are enough parts on defense to think they can make it work there, too. I guess it just seems weird to think Mike Mularkey is going to be leading a great team in 2017.

        • Deacon Drake

          Their coach is still Mike Mularkey? That seems like it should be incorrect. How is he still sabotaging teams?

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