The final game of Week 6 of the 2021 NFL season pits the 4-1 Buffalo Bills against the 3-2 Tennessee Titans. Josh Allen and company are coming off a monstrous win over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, while Derrick Henry and the boys are fresh off a destruction of the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars.
A win would help the Bills keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens at the top of the AFC, while a Tennessee victory would make the conference's playoff picture much more muddled. Can the Bills make it five in a row, or will the Titans pull off the upset at home? We're glad you asked, because we're here to break down the matchup.
But first, here's how you can watch tonight's game.
How to watch
Date: Monday, Oct. 18 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Location: Nissan Stadium (Nashville, TN)
TV: ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (click here)
Follow: CBS Sports App
Odds: Bills -6, O/U 53.5
When the Bills have the ball
Allen is on some kind of roll right now -- especially on throws deep down the field. As we wrote Friday:
Most NFL tracking services consider "deep" throws to be those that travel 20 or more yards down the field in the air. Allen excels on those throws, but what he really excels on are the even deeper throws.
Nobody in the league has attempted more throws of 30-plus air yards than Allen, who has lofted 14 of them. On those 14 plays, he has nine completions, which have accounted for 375 yards and two touchdowns, per Tru Media. That's a 147.3 passer rating. (Only Dak Prescott's 149.3 is higher, and he's attempted less than half as many throws as Allen, going 4 of 6 for 163 yards and two touchdowns.) Allen completed four of these passes against the Chiefs alone. Only four other players have more than four of these completions on the entire season.
That's particularly bad news for the Titans, who have been extremely flammable through the air. Tennessee checked in 25th in Football Outsiders' pass defense DVOA heading into Week 6, and 30th against deep passes. The Titans have allowed opponents to complete 13 of 21 passes for 506 yards, four touchdowns, and just one interception on throws of at least 20 air yards.
Opposing teams have been intent on picking on Janoris Jenkins, targeting him more often than all but 10 other cornerbacks league wide. Jenkins has yielded 22 completions on 32 targets, giving up 267 yards and a score. That's a 104.6 passer rating, and he hasn't been close to the most friendly target for opponents. (Rookie Elijah Molden has given up a perfect 158.3 passer rating on throws into his coverage, albeit on only eight such throws.)
Perhaps this week will bring the Stefon Diggs blow-up game that has seemingly been on its way all season. Diggs ranked third in the NFL in air yards but only 17th in receiving yards through the first five weeks of the season. Tennessee's linebackers (particularly David Long) have been vulnerable in coverage this season as well, which could lead to another big game for emerging tight end Dawson Knox.
The Titans' best hope is to get pressure on Allen and force him into mistakes. Tennessee has pressured opposing passers on a slightly above-average share of dropbacks this season, which is a good sighting after their offseason spending spree, but maybe not so good considering Bud Dupree hasn't even been one of their better pass rushers. (Harold Landry has been much better and much more consistent.) Allen has actually done quite well under pressure this year, though, totaling 505 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions. He hasn't even gotten much going in the scrambling department yet, as much of his damage has come on designed running plays.
The news doesn't get much better for the Titans when it comes to the ground game. They rank 27th in rush defense DVOA, per Football Outsiders, and 23rd in Adjusted Line Yards allowed. (The Bills offense ranks sixth in the same stat.) Zack Moss has begun to take over a larger share of Buffalo's backfield work in recent weeks, but both he and Devin Singletary are afforded plenty of room to work thanks to the attention opponents have to pay to both the threat of the pass and the threat of Allen as a rusher.
When the Titans have the ball
Buffalo's defense is coming off one of the best performances any team has had this season, holding the Chiefs in check for a significant majority of the game at Arrowhead Stadium last week. Buffalo was content to sit back in coverage and dare Patrick Mahomes to take checkdown passes or call running plays all game, and it worked quite well. It'll be interesting to see how Buffalo's strategy changes this week, because, well, daring the Titans to run means daring them to keep giving the ball to Derrick Henry -- and we know how willing they are to do that.
Henry, frankly, is probably not from this planet. Since the team's total meltdown in Week 1 against the Cardinals, Henry has logged rushing lines of 35-182-3, 28-113-0, 33-157-1, and 29-130-3. That's 125 carries (in four games!) for 582 yards (4.7 per carry) and seven scores. In four games. (Four games!) Much of that production has come without defenses needing to pay much attention to the pass, because both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones have been injured for the better part of the last few weeks.
I'd try to break down how on earth the Bills can stop Henry on the ground, but I honestly don't know if there is a way to do so. The best chance you have is taking a big lead and forcing Tennessee to go with a pass heavy game plan. That's what Arizona did back in Week 1, and that is what most teams that have managed to keep him in check have done over the years as well. Buffalo is set up better to do that than most teams, and it helps that the Bills actually have done an excellent job of stopping the run overall this season. (They rank first in both rush defense DVOA and Adjusted Line Yards allowed.) The guys along the front four are doing a fantastic job of shedding blocks and making plays behind the line of scrimmage, stuffing opponents for no gain or a loss on 23 percent of rush attempts.
The Bills surely know the Titans will want to run the ball down their throats and will organize their defense accordingly, which is why it's good news that Brown and Jones are back in the lineup. Only, Brown may now not be in the lineup after he was ominously added to the injury report Sunday due to an illness. Ryan Tannehill has been working with a makeshift receiver corps for much of the season and could presumably make things work if Josh Reynolds and/or Chester Rogers, Cameron Batson, Marcus Johnson, and Nick Westbrook have to pick up more snaps, but things are obviously much easier with both of the star wideouts in the fold.
That's especially true because Buffalo's secondary has been so stingy -- especially on the play-action throws that are Tannehill's (and Tennessee's) strength. The Bills have allowed opponents to complete only 20 of 41 passes for 261 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions off play action this season, per Tru Media, "good" for a disgusting 55 passer rating that would make Titans fans long for the days of Zach Mettenberger.
Prediction: Bills 34, Titans 20