Houston @ Tennessee (-5.0)
Power rankings: Houston 32, Tennessee 21
Spread update: Tennessee is now just 3.5 point favorites as Ryan Tannehill (ankle) has been ruled out.
Keys to the game: The Texans offense is 31st in DVOA and 32nd in EPA/play. They have a bad quarterback, offensive line (LT Laremy Tunsil is excellent, however), and will be without WR Nico Collins (foot) and RB Dameon Pierce (ankle). They will get back Brandin Cooks (calf), who last played week 12, but this is a sad excuse for an offense. The Titans on defense (16th in both DVOA and EPA/play) generate average pressure rates despite low blitz rates. They should get back Denico Autry (knee), where he'll have a big advantage whenever he lines up against RT Charlie Heck (Autry switches sides, so he could see Tunsil as well). Along the interior, DT Jjeffery Simmons will be a problem for the Texans line. The Titans don't have a bottom-tier cornerback room, but their safety tandem (Kevin Byard and Andrew Adams) should be more than enough against the Texans. The Titans defense has been one of the more one-dimensional defenses in the league, ranking 1st in DVOA against the run and 28th against the pass.
With Ryan Tannehill (ankle) slated to miss, rookie Malik Willis will be making his 3rd career start. The Titans have showed that they have very little trust with Willis as a passer -- he's played 150 snaps this season, but has attempted only 38 passes. In his two starts this season (one of which was against Houston), he attempted 10 and 16 passes, respectively. Willis's upside comes squarely from his rushing ability, where he and Derrick Henry will attack a Texans defense that ranks 24th in run defense DVOA. In total, Houston's defense is 21st in DVOA and 20th in EPA/play, but have been better defending the pass. They have a pair of quality edge rushers (Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Jerry Hughes) and a decent cornerback room (Desmond King and Steve Nelson), but there's weaknesses everywhere else. The Titans have arguably the worst offensive line in football (mostly due to injuries) -- I'd expect the pass rush to get their fair share of victories, but Henry and Willis should be able to win on their own. Robert Woods, Treylon Burks, and TE Austin Hooper has turned into a respectable group of receivers, but I'm not expecting much given the quarterback situation, the strength of the Texans pass rush vs the Titans line, and the Texans cornerbacks.
New Orleans @ Cleveland (-2.5)
Power rankings: New Orleans 22, Cleveland 11
Spread update: This line has moved toward the model and is up to 3.
Keys to the game: The Saints offense is not only bad -- ranking 23rd in DVOA and 21st in EPA/play -- but they're missing their best two wide receivers. Rookie Chris Olave is out with a hamstring injury while Jarvis Landry is out due to an ankle injury. Rookie undrafted free agent Rashid Shaheed is their top receiver by projected targets. Andy Dalton has done surprisingly well this season, but the offensive line is poor (exception: RT Ryan Ramczyk) and his receiving core is even worse. It's at least an easy matchup - the Browns defense ranks 26th in DVOA and 25th in EPA/play. Myles Garrett will be mostly lined up against LT James Hurst, which is a mismatch to end all mismatches. However, the Browns rank near the bottom in pressure rate as a team and are without Jadeveon Clowney (concussion). The secondary isn't great either, but rookie CB Martin Emerson and slot CB Greg Newsome II have both played well as of late.
The Browns offense (10th in DVOA and 12th in EPA/play) have been sliding down the productivity rankings since Deshaun Watson returned. In Watson's 3 games, he's completing 60.9% of his passes and gaining just 6.2 yards per attempt, which has earned him a 60.7 PFF grade. I've written before about how the difficulty with suspended players returning isn't just rust from not playing -- you aren't even allowed in the building to practice with your teammate. It isn't a surprise that Watson -- who hadn't played in almost 2 years prior to his return -- is struggling, and I wouldn't expect him to be his old self till next season. However, there is some reason for optimism in this matchup. The Saints have a decent defense (ranked 14th in both DVOA and EPA/play), but the Browns matchup well against New Orleans. Although the Saints have a few talented players up front (Marcus Davenport and Cameron Jordan), they rank near the bottom of the league in pressure rates while Cleveland has an elite offensive line. The Saints also have the worst cornerback room in football -- Marshon Lattimore (abdomen) hasn't played since week 5 and is questionable to return, but assuming he doesn't play, the following are starters with their PFF grade rankings in parenthesis (out of 118 qualifiers): Alontae Taylor (93), Paulson Adebo (113), and Bradley Roby (115). Amari Cooper and Donovan People's-Jones should have no issue getting open, and Watson should have plenty of time to throw. The Saints defense excels at the linebacker (Demario Davis and Kaden Elliss) and safety (Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathie), and are therefore excellent against tight ends (2nd in DVOA) and running backs as receivers (7th). This will make it a tough day at the office for David Njoku and Kareem Hunt. As for Nick Chubb, the Saints defense has struggled against the run (23rd in DVOA) this season.