NFL Week 18 Power Rankings: Titans will be tough out, especially with Derrick Henry returning; Cowboys plummet

In mid-November, the Tennessee Titans were 8-2 and were the top seed in the AFC. They looked to be on their way to earning that spot, despite having lost running back Derrick Henry in late October.

But then things went bad. They lost three of four games, including a bad home loss to the Houston Texans and a blowout at the hands of the New England Patriots. Things looked bleak as their playoff hopes were being jeopardized and the No. 1 seed seemed like a real long shot.

Fast forward to today. The Titans are currently the top seed in the AFC and need only to beat the Texans this week in Houston to claim that and get the first-round playoff bye. If they do get the extra week, there is a great chance they could have Henry back for the playoffs. (He returned to practice Wednesday.)

The Titans regrouped the past two weeks to beat the San Francisco 49ers at home and the Miami Dolphins this past Sunday. Their toughness was on display in both games, which we’ve come to expect from this team.

They’ve taken on the mentality of coach Mike Vrabel, who just might be the Coach of the Year. They will play tough, physical defense and pound the football. They’ve navigated through the Henry injury, several others on the offensive line and their receiving group has been in and out all year. They’ve played so many players this year you can hardly keep track.

There are still doubts as to whether the Titans can pass the football well enough in the playoffs to win it all. Ryan Tannehill can be streaky, but if the run game works he is more than capable of leading them to a Super Bowl.

The Titans are sixth in

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Fantasy Football Week 9 Sleepers: Jeremy McNichols best bet to fill Derrick Henry void, plus DFS lineups

I’m curious to see how the Titans plan to replace Derrick Henry (foot), who is out for 6-10 weeks. It doesn’t appear like offensive coordinator Todd Downing wants to change things in Tennessee, even with Henry not on the field.

On Thursday, Downing said, “I’d be doing the offense a disservice if I jerked the wheel on our identity at this point of the season with Derrick Henry out.”

It sounds like Downing still wants to lean on the ground game, which bodes well for either Adrian Peterson or Jeremy McNichols. For now, give me McNichols heading into Week 9 at the Rams — and maybe the rest of the year.

McNichols will be the one playing on passing downs. And despite what Downing said, I expect the Titans to be forced to throw the ball more with Henry sidelined. That will likely happen Sunday night against the Rams if the Titans are chasing points as expected. 

McNichols already has at least three catches in four games this season. He should get the chance to carry the ball more as well, and he’s a nice sleeper for Week 9. 

We’ll see what happens with Peterson, who is 36 and last played for the Lions in 2020. He could be the best running back for the Titans, and maybe he keeps Tennessee’s run game afloat.

But I’m skeptical to trust Peterson, which is why I’d lean toward McNichols, who has been Henry’s backup all season. I’m hoping McNichols steps up and takes over for Henry in Week 9 and beyond.

McNichols is one of my favorite sleepers in Week 9.

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