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The Claim for the AFC South: Fantasy Notes Round 1

The History can get dicey when you ask fans about how they feel about each each others teams in Houston and Tennessee. For years the Titans were called the Tennessee Oilers, and fans in Houston saw the later renamed Tennessee Titans travel to a Super Bowl appearance in 1999, only three years after the team was uprooted from Texas. On top of that, owner Bud Adams decided to retain all of the Oilers’ heritage and team records, essentially robbing fans in Houston of any claims to the limited success the team had. The Oilers won two AFL championships before the merger with the NFL.

Now both the Titans and Texans come into week 15 with the exact same 8-5 records and still have two games in which they get to duke it out. The two clubs have faced each other 34 times, the Titans holding the slightest of edges with 18 wins compared to the Texans’ 16 victories. The Texans won the last meeting back on November 26 of 2018 in dominant fashion to the tune of 17-34. The Titans had won the previous two meeting before that by a combined 14 points.

As of late the Titans are red hot and the Texans don’t know who they are. Houston will need to rebound quickly to overcome being 2-point underdogs on the road in a game that has a 50 point over/under implied by Vegas. Vegas has this one pretty close as first place in the division is at stake.

Key Players

Deshaun Watson salvaged his fantasy day in a blowout loss that gave him the opportunity to pour on three touchdowns in the second half route versus Denver in week 14. He hit 28 of 50 attempts for just under 300 passing yards, while also tossing a touchdown. The important thing to take away is that he used his legs in the red-zone and rushed for two more scores on the ground. That’s a big difference maker in 4 point passing touchdown leagues. He has amassed 314.5 fantasy points in 6 point per passing TD formats, with five 30+ point fantasy games, and is projected to have another productive day on the road versus a familiar divisional opponent in a must-win AFC South brawl. Since the debacle in Baltimore Watson has put up 20+ fantasy performances in his last three contests, and torched the fantastic New England pass defense in the process. He’s a smoke ’em if ya got ’em play who provides a relatively safe floor, provided that he continues to use his legs around the goal-line.

DeAndre Hopkins & Will Fuller – Hopkins’ targets will be dependent on the involvement of of Will Fuller in this game, as they usually are. Without Fuller in the lineup Hopkins was able to post a 7-120-1 line last week. His targets usually balloon to around 13 per contest with the speedy Fuller off the field and dip to the high single-digit mark when they are both in the game. Fuller was held out last week with a hamstring that has been ailing him most of the season. In his first game back from a four game absence, Fuller posted 17.5 fantasy points versus Indianapolis and then was virtually blanked the following week against New England. Now off an entire week of rest and piling on limited practices, Fuller expects to give it the “old college” try in the first of two very important clashes with their division rivals. Watson gets a boost if Fuller is healthy, and expect Keke Coutee to be inactive if that is the case. Kenny Stills is a wildcard.

Carlos Hyde & Duke Johnson – It was hard to get a sense of the Texans run game in the absolute pounding they took from Drew Lock and company. Having to play catch up all game will change the game plan for most teams, and that usually means taking to the air more often than not. Even at that, it was quarterback Deshaun Watson who found the paint twice for the Texans last week. Houston still hasn’t fully unlocked the potential of Duke Johnson who has only averaged 8.8 touches per game over the course of the last 4 games. He played second fiddle to Hyde who went 14 for 73 last week. Johnson is a plus in PPR leagues as he caught 6 of 8 targets last week for 40 yards. Unfortunately the Texans are content with sticking to the less electrifying bruiser in Carlos Hyde.

Ryan Tannehill has had a resurgence since taking over for Marcus Mariota in week 7. He gets another great chance to keep it going versus the Texans. Tannehill has been en fuego for seven straight weeks, posting double digit fantasy performances in all of his games and eclipsing 30 points twice in the last three weeks. He finishes off the fantasy playoffs against extremely generous defenses in the Texans and then Saints next week. He torched the Raiders secondary last week going 391-3 on his way to a statement season that has him eyeballing an extension as new sheriff in town.

AJ Brown is a beast once the ball the ball is in hands and he has made his mark in the passing game despite a low volume of targets. Last week he took the Raiders for a ride, posting a 5-123-2 line on a meager seven targets. The second round rookie has a huge ceiling in a game where he matches up against a carousel of defensive backs that were plucked off the Island of Misfit Toys (Merry Christmas!). Brown posterized Oakland defenders last week en route to a 31 point fantasy day in half PPR formats and cleared 21 Fantasy managers didn’t pick him up off of waivers to bench him, but he might not have as big of a day if Tennessee decided to give Henry close to 30 carries after resting him the entire week.

He missed three straight practices this week and is officially listed as questionable for this game with a minor hamstring issue. Derrick Henry is coming off his fourth straight 100 yard rushing performance though, and was limited in a couple of practices last week before tallying 103 yards versus Oakland. When asked, both Henry and Coach Mike Vrabel seemed extremely optimistic about being able to go on Sunday. Henry has gone for 1,243 yards and 13 touchdowns this season making fellow running back Dion Lewis an afterthought. In half PPR leagues Henry has racked up 237 fantasy points and has double digit output in all but two games this season. He’s managed to surpass 20 fantasy points in five straight games and broke 30 once during that span. He’s a surefire running back one on the week against a leaky Houston run defense.

Injuries: For the Titans Malcolm Butler has gone to the IR with a wrist injury, Adoree’ Jackson missed last week with a foot issue and LeShaun Sims was absent as well, but is not listed on the final injury report that an ankle issue that had kept him out of the last two games. Kenny Vaccaro practiced twice this week, but is still listed as questionable with a concussion.

Chris Clark T, Carlos Watkins DE, Gareon Conley CB were all full participants. Will Fuller WR is questionable (hamstring), Brennan Scarlett OLB (achilles, shoulder), Taiwan Jones RB (hamstring) are all questionable and were limited at practice for Houston.

Trends

  • There are eight NFL defenses this season that allow at least a 60% red-zone touchdown rate, the Titans and Texans are two of them.
  • There are only five offenses in the league that have a red-zone touchdown conversion rate of 65% or higher, you can include the Titans and Texans in that group
  • Both will be two of the top teams this week who are more than likely to convert their red-zone possessions into touchdowns instead of field goals.
  • Deshaun Watson now has 7 rushing touchdowns on the season, he broke the franchise record of 6 after rushing for 2 scores versus Denver last week
  • Only Michael Thomas (15) of the Saints has a longer 5+ catch game streak than DeAndre Hopkins (13)
  • Houston’s defense is 18th vs the run, meanwhile Tennessee is 8th running the football.

Prediction – Tennessee at home will likely lean on a fresh Derrick Henry to the tune of 25+ carries and over 100 yards. He will likely convert in the red-zone as well. Tannehill has been the best fantasy quarterback behind only Lamar Jackson. Here are some things not in Houston’s favor. Which Houston team will show up? This is not a prime-time game for Watson. The Texans have a paper-thin defense at this point, the only thing thinner may be Will Fuller’s delicate hamstrings. Titans win at home, covering the spread 23-27.

You can follow the author of this article at @FF_Peacock on Twitter

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