Maybe the least attractive game on the Week 1 board, yet it has one the better storylines and certainly something anyone studying the NFL odds would be interested in following.
Tennessee and Tampa Bay both drafted who most believed were the two best quarterbacks coming out of college and while neither is thought to be bullet-proof, they deserved to be at the head of the class.
Both quarterbacks are being thrown into the fire as immediate starters, as these franchises look to return to respectability. Whether their presence will result in them being viewed positively or negatively for NFL picks, this is still up for debate by football handicappers, but it is still worth following as they begin their new journey.
Actually, this is the second meeting between Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, having faced off in one of college football tournament semi-final games on Jan. 1st this season. Here is the rundown on each squad.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt has revamped the offensive line after the Titans released right tackle Michael Oher, traded guard Andy Levitre last week and had stalwart left tackle Michael Roos retire after 10 seasons. This could mean that Marcus Mariota's lively legs will come in handy to avoid trouble.
It appears Tennessee is going to be conservative in pushing the ball down the field, keeping only four wide receivers and five tight ends. This figures to setup a lot of short and intermediate routes to receiver Kendall Wright and TE Delanie Walker and take shots down the field on occasion to Harry Douglas, formerly of Atlanta. With a rookie quarterback, the Titans don't want to put Mariota in too many tough situations and would love to be able to run the football consistently, something they didn't do well in 2014.
Bishop Sankey will be Tennessee's lead running back for a team that finished 26th in rushing the ball a year ago and at least on the surface to begin the year could be worse.
Defensively, Whisenhunt brought in his old coaching pal from Pittsburgh Dick LeBeau to be an assistant and he will look to try and confuse Winston with 3-4 zone blitz scheme and try to get the Bucs rookie to turn the football over, something he had issues with at Florida State last year.
Tampa Bay is in a similar spot as their opponent and will want to run the football. Running back Doug Martin had a great preseason, playing at about the same weight he was as rookie, after trying to beef up. His burst is back and he was finishing runs like he did in his first year in west Florida, when he rushed for 1,454 yards.
The best way to protect Winston and a young offensive line is to run the football and stay on down and distance, trying to avoid third-and-long. That doesn't mean Jameis Winston won't have the biggest impact on the offense, since as like Mariota, he can escape the pocket and make plays with his arm or legs, but he has to protect the football. Look for offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to use quick throws to get Winston in rhythm and limit pressure. Beating the blitz will be important for Winston, who struggled against a similar 3-4 schemes he saw in the preseason.
Defensively, head coach Lovie Smith has vowed to throw the kitchen sink at the opposing rookie quarterback. Smith has taken over calling the defense, after his team finished 25th in total defense and wants to utilize cornerstones Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David to their fullest potential.
This is presumed to be a conservative, low risk offensive affair with two teams that appear very close talent-wise. In this scenario it is best to take the points and with the Bucs giving away the bucks with a 2-10 ATS record against the AFC South, I will take the Titans with my NFL picks.
NFL Picks: Titans +3 at The Greek