The Cowboys are riding high off of their Christmas Eve win over the Eagles, and they now travel to Tennessee to take on a Titans team that’s seemingly waving the white flag this week. Tennessee has nothing to gain in this game, as their Week 18 clash with the division rival Jaguars will determine the AFC South winner regardless of what either team does this week.
As such, the Titans have already ruled out eight key contributors for this game, while Derrick Henry - who was listed as doubtful - is also unlikely to play. That’s led to the Cowboys ballooning to 12-point favorites in this game, but the last time they were a double-digit favorite they nearly lost to the Texans; the same Texans team who just beat these Titans, that is. Do our writers think the Cowboys can take advantage of a Titans team with little to play for?
When Tennessee has the ball
Get back into a groove
The Cowboys once led the league in sacks but have fallen to a distant third after recording just four sacks in the month of December. They’re still tied for the second highest pressure rate, though, and the drop-off in sacks is largely due to 1) Facing a trio of quarterbacks who get the ball out very quickly, and 2) Undergoing several changes in the secondary after losing Anthony Brown for the year.
The game against the Eagles likely cemented Nahshon Wright as the starter opposite Trevon Diggs going forward, with DaRon Bland moving outside in base formations. Going against rookie quarterback Malik Willis this week should offer a good test of this reshuffled defense, too. Willis is completing 50.8% of his passes and being pressured at the third highest rate of any quarterback. He’s been sacked at least three times in all three of his starts, too, making this a perfect opportunity for the Dallas defense to get right.
When Dallas has the ball
Air it out
The Titans defense has had a split personality all year long, They’re excellent against the run - ranked second in run defense DVOA and allowing the second fewest yards per carry - but are also 27th in pass defense DVOA and giving up the fifth most yards per pass attempt. They have five different defensive backs on the injured reserve, and two others have been ruled out for this game.
It’s safe to say that the recipe for success against this defense is through the air. That’s good for Dallas, as Dak Prescott is coming off an exceptional performance against a significantly better Eagles secondary. Prescott has been playing great football since returning from his injury this year, with the lone exception being his high turnover rate. This banged up Titans defense could be a golden opportunity to work on dissecting defenses without putting the ball in harm’s way.
Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...
Tom Ryle (10-5):
This is a strange situation. This is a meaningless game for the Titans. Their playoff chance only depends on their final game against the Jaguars, whether they win or lose against the Cowboys. Mike Vrabel is talking about resting players, their injury list is ludicrously long, and they are starting backup Malik Willis at QB.
The Cowboys at least have a very slim chance of winning the NFCE to play for. But they would also like to avoid injuries and let some players heal. I do think we’ll see a couple of shots to T.Y. Hilton, but otherwise it should be a very conservative game on both sides.
I think the Cowboys win 23-10.
Tony Catalina (9-6):
This game shouldn’t be complex. The Cowboys still have reasons to win this week and the Titans do not. With everything on the line for them in week 18, look for the Titans to treat this Thursday night clash as a preseason game where they look to get mentally and physically ready to face the Jacksonville Jaguars for the AFC South crown. Things may look funky for a bit but there is no doubt the Cowboys win this one handily.
Matt Holleran (8-6):
Looking at the schedule before this season this is a game I would have picked Dallas to lose. Facing Derrick Henry and the talented Titans’ defense in December did not seem like it would end well, but things have shifted significantly.
Henry may not even play in this game, and the Titans are starting rookie Malik Willis at quarterback. Willis has been downright dreadful this season, and I think this is the week Dallas’ defense gets back on track. I see this being a low-scoring game, but the Cowboys walk away with a convincing win.
Give me the Cowboys, 23-13.
Brandon Loree (10-5):
The Cowboys are already in the playoffs with a sliver of hope to move up in seeding, and the Titans are looking to rest before their Week 18 game against the Jaguars that decides their season. I think the goal for both teams is to be as healthy as possible when it hits 0:00.
Dallas is just better on offense. For context, CeeDee Lamb has 1,207 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. The Titans’ top three receivers have 1,241 yards and six touchdowns combined. I’m happy the Cowboys are playing a mobile quarterback like Malik Willis to test some things out, preparing for Jalen Hurts or Josh Allen in the playoffs.
I’ll go bold here and say the defense pitches a shutout against the Titans and the Cowboys win 24-0.
Matthew Arizzi (10-5):
With Malik Willis at the helm, the Titans offense is very suspect. Last week, they scored just 14 points against the Texans, turned the ball over three times, and allowed Willis to be sacked four times. Those numbers should bode well for a Cowboys defense that has been letting up points in bunches as of late.
Along with the Cowboys defense, their offensive rushing attack is coming off its worst two-game stretch. Neither Pollard or Elliott have averaged over four yards a carry in either of the last two games. The Titans run defense has played really well the last three weeks, so look for another big game from Prescott.
Cowboys 27, Titans 20.
Mike Poland (11-3):
The Cowboys face a stingy run defense this week, but an extremely poor pass defense. Another game for Dak to show off and get hot ready for the playoffs. CeeDee can come out playing his socks off again, and maybe even get a little more Pollard action on some wheel routes. Let’s see the defense get right now and lock this game down.
Cowboys win this one 34-17.
Chris Halling (1-1):
The Dallas Cowboys keep it rolling and beat the Tennessee Titans pretty convincingly. Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott lead the offense to another strong outing, and the defense does much better than the last few weeks.
Cowboys win 31-10.
LP Cruz (1-0):
Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s been reported that Tennesee may sit many of their players with a defacto AFC South title agaisnt Jacksonville next week and virtually have nothing to gain by playing thier starters. Hit with a litany of injuries, the Tennesee Titans have an injury report long as a country mile. As of now, it looks like Tennessee will be without several starters Thursday night, and maybe two in their secondary.
Their loss is the Cowboys gain. Pinpoint Prescott once again lights it up a secondary in desperate need of healthy players. Meanwhile the Dallas defense makes things miserable for the rookie quarterback Malik Willis.
Cowboys make short work of a shorthanded Titans team, 31-10.
Brian Martin (11-4):
With all of the injuries the Tennessee Titans are dealing with and the fact HC Mike Vrabel is contemplating sitting/resting players in this Week 17 matchup, I’m predicting what is hopefully a relatively easy win for the Dallas Cowboys.
Cowboys win 34-17.
RJ Ochoa (10-5):
This is another weird week for the Cowboys, a good problem to have with them having clinched their playoff berth over a week ago. While the Eagles game was interesting in that neither team had a ton to play for the Titans actually have nothing to play for.
It makes sense for both parties to focus on getting through Thursday without injuries first and foremost (obviously always true) but at the end of the day the game means a bit more to Dallas and they just so happen to be the better team.
Give me the Cowboys.
David Howman (11-4):
Just a couple of weeks ago I was genuinely worried about this game. But Ryan Tannehill suffered a lengthy injury, the Titans seem to be waving the white flag, and now even Derrick Henry - who would almost certainly eat this run defense alive - is doubtful to play. It’s safe to say I’m no longer that worried.
The Titans may be resting their best players, but Dallas still has something to play for. I think they come out with determination to put this game away early before turning to a run heavy approach to grind the clock out. That won’t result in a gaudy final score, but it’ll still give Dak Prescott more time to fine tune his connection with T.Y. Hilton.
Cowboys win 31-10.