Rookie QB Will Levis will make his NFL debut for the Tennessee Titans (2-4) when they host the Atlanta Falcons (4-3) this Sunday (10/29/23) at 1 p.m. ET. The Falcons are the betting favorites on the road at -2.5 against the spread, while the over/under is set at 35.5.
This article provides Falcons vs. Titans analysis, predictions and betting recommendations and explains why the best bet in this matchup is the Titans’ moneyline at +120.
Falcons vs. Titans Prediction & Best Bet
The Tennessee Titans seem to be going through a transitional phase as a franchise this week.
First they signaled a potential sale of some of their established veterans by trading long-time safety and two-time All-Pro Kevin Byard to the Eagles. Then on Friday they officially ruled out quarterback Ryan Tannehill and announced that rookie 2nd-round pick Will Levis will make his NFL debut, while 2nd year QB Malik Willis will also get some opportunities (likely in an RPO specialist type of role).
Sources: The #Titans are preparing rookie QB Will Levis to start on Sunday, as the 2nd rounder should make his NFL debut.
With Ryan Tannehill (ankle) likely out, coach Mike Vrabel said both Levis and Malik Willis would play. But Levis is expected to be the primary QB. pic.twitter.com/aEb6MEXpiu
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 25, 2023
That creates some interesting dynamics for this week’s matchup with the Falcons.
First and foremost, what will Levis look like in his debut against a tough Falcons’ defense? The Falcons are allowing just 19 points per game (9th) and the third-fewest total yards per game. They are top 10 both against the pass and against the run, but their advanced metrics are much better against the run (5th in DVOA, 1st in EPA) than against the pass (28th, 24th).
The Falcons will look to prioritize shutting down Derrick Henry in the run game, which means Levis could be forced into obvious passing situations. His ability (or lack thereof) to exploit the Falcons’ pass defense will be one of the biggest storylines in the game.
The other dynamic is the general morale of the Titans’ team after the Byard trade, with more potential trades of veterans looming ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline. That kind of thing can either galvanize a team (one last hurrah!) or demoralize them if players start checking out on a team that is clearly focused more on the future.
Of course the Byard trade also has the very real effect of hurting the Titans’ already weak pass defense. Like the Falcons, the Titans are much better against the run (3rd in DVOA, t-4th in yards per carry allowed) than against the pass (22nd overall, 26th in DVOA).
Teams frequently just don’t bother trying to run the ball against the Titans knowing they can easily move the ball through the air, which is even more true after the Byard trade. But also like the Titans, the Falcons much prefer to run the ball with Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier than ask struggling QB Desmond Ridder to air it out.
With Levis getting the start and big questions about how these weak offenses will attack these strong defenses, it’s not surprising that the total is so low at just 35.5. While we would lean toward the over on such a low number, we prefer to stay away from a number like that.
In a game with so much uncertainty, there can be value in leaning into the chaos and taking the side getting plus odds. Levis was considered a 1st round talent before slipping to the 2nd round, when the Titans made an aggressive trade up to grab him. He has a cannon for an arm and enough athleticism to extend plays and gain yards on the ground. It would not be all that surprising to see him play well in his first career start, especially considering the Falcons’ defense has no tape on him yet.
The safe play is to take the points with the points, but we’re going a bit bolder and taking the Titans on the moneyline to beat the Falcons outright.
Falcons vs. Titans Prediction & Best Bet: Titans win 23-19, Titans moneyline (+120)
Falcons vs. Titans Betting Odds
The spread in this matchup is sitting just under the key number of 3 at Falcons -2.5. It has momentarily made the jump to -3 at some sportsbooks so it’s worth monitoring to try to get that number if you’re taking the points.
The over/under is trending down after opening at 37 as it now sits at 35.5. This is the lowest total on the week 8 slate.
The implied outcome of these odds is the Falcons winning 19-16.
Falcons vs. Titans Key Injuries
The most significant injury impacting this game is obviously Titans QB Ryan Tannehill, who has already been ruled out. Titans CB Roger McCreary is the only other starter on either team that is at risk of missing the game.
After unexpectedly missing the majority of last week’s game with a migraine, Bijan Robinson is not on the injury report and is expected to play, but given the surprising situation that unfolded last week, it still bears monitoring.
Falcons vs. Titans Key Matchups
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Falcons vs. Titans below.
Derrick Henry vs. Falcons’ run defense
As noted above, the Falcons are going to focus on shutting down Derrick Henry (and to a lesser extent, Tyjae Spears) and forcing Will Levis to try to beat them through the air. That will be easier said than done, of course, even for one of the best run defenses in the league.
The Falcons’ run defense may not be quite as strong as it looks on paper. There is a strong possibility that they are a bit of a paper tiger due to facing some rather weak competition. The running backs the Falcons have faced this season include: Miles Sanders, AJ Dillon, Jahmyr Gibbs, Travis Etienne, Dameon Pierce, Brian Robinson Jr., and Rachaad White. They avoided both Aaron Jones and David Montgomery in their games against the Packers and Lions.
While there are some good names on that list like Gibbs and Etienne, none of those backs even approaches the caliber of King Henry, especially on the ground (Gibbs and Etienne do a lot of their damage through the air). Henry has not been his usual unstoppable self so far this season, but he is still 11th in the league in rushing and averaging the same 4.3 yards per carry he has averaged each of the last 2 seasons. Last time we saw him against the Ravens’ top 10 run defense, he did this:
.@KingHenry_2 takes it 64 yards on the direct snap! 👑
— NFL (@NFL) October 15, 2023
That looked a lot like vintage Henry. All he needs is the volume to produce like he is capable of, and we expect him to get that in this game. If the Falcons can’t slow him down, then our Titans moneyline pick will be looking that much better.
Desmond Ridder vs. Titans’ pass defense
The Falcons have the weapons to be able to exploit the weakest part of this Titans’ team: its pass defense. The only question is whether Desmond Ridder can be effective at getting them the ball.
We have probably already seen enough to know that Ridder is not the Falcons’ QB of the future. He is 22nd in ESPN’s QBR metric, 19th in passer rating at 84.1, and PFF’s 34th graded QB out of 36 qualifying players. The Falcons are going to need Ridder to be better than that to win this game.
Ridder has had his moments – he leads the NFL with 4 game-winning drives – so there is reason to believe he can get the job done. But there is a lot riding on him in this matchup.