This morning at 9:20 AM, ESPN reported that Tennesse Titans running back Derrick Henry “suffered a potentially season-ending foot injury during Sunday’s 34-31” OT win. The injury, a “Jones fracture,” is a fracturing of the fifth metatarsal and would require season-ending surgery to correct.
Typically, an average, ordinary running back injury would not lead ESPN and would be a minor story.
Derrick Henry is no ordinary running back; he leads the league in rushing yards with 937 (353 more than the next) on 219 attempts (82 more) and has ten rushing touchdowns (2 more). He is the offensive heart and soul of the Tennesse Titans, and the Titans losing him for any amount of time is a significant problem.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst-case scenario, of course, is if Derrick Henry misses the rest of the season- we will know more after the results of his MRI are released. But until then, let’s pretend that he misses the whole season.
The Titans next play the Rams on Sunday Night Football, and without Henry, I will give this one to the Rams (0-1). Their next game is not a whole lot easier; they play at home against the Saints, which I will also give to the Saints (0-2).
The Titans have a nice reprieve and play the Texans (1-2) but then head on the road to play the Patriots, which is a tossup that I will give to the Patriots (1-3).
The Titans have their bye in Week 13 and then get to play against the Jaguars in Week 14 (2-3) before heading into a bit of a tough stretch.
They head on the road against the Steelers (2-4), home to the 49ers (2-5) and the Miami Dolphins (3-5), and then on the road against the Texans (4-5) to close the season out.
The Titans are currently 6-2, so if they finish at 4-5, they will end the season with a record of 10-7.
My projections model (ZLO) currently has the Titans finishing with a similar record, but it could easily see the Titans falling to 9-8.
Not that you ever want your franchise running back to sustain a season-ending injury, but there is something to be said for the timing of the injury.
It would seem that the Titans have essentially locked up the AFC South with a 6-2 record; the next closest team is the Indianapolis Colts, who have a record of 3-5, and the Titans have already swept the Colts in their head to head matchups.
Because of the head-to-head matchups, the Colts would need to not only catch the Titans by winning three games but would then also need to win one more game to break the tie. So it would seem the Titans have secured a playoff spot. 538 currently sees the Titans making the playoffs in 99% of its 100,000 NFL season simulations, and in 97%, they win the AFC South. ZLO still has them favored over the Colts by half of a game.
Projecting forward to the playoffs, as of right now, the Titans would be the fourth-best division champions, meaning they would play the best Wildcard team, currently projected to be the LA Chargers.
Without Henry, I would personally give the game to the Chargers; Justin Herbert would likely be able to shred the Titans’ secondary, and the Chargers’ offense as a whole would be, well, electric. The Titans without Henry would likely struggle to possess the ball, and defenses would be able to play the pass more aggressively than they could now.
So, without Henry, the Titans can limp into the post-season with an okay record and would likely lose to the highest wildcard team.
The Better Scenario
I want to propose an alternate injury scenario because I’m not particularly eager to end on a down note. What if there is a lesser injury scenario, a better case scenario.
A severe foot sprain can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks to heal, so let’s say Henry misses Week 9 to Week 12 and comes back after the Titans Bye Week in Week 13.
I am still starting with the assumption that the Titans will go 1-3 during that stretch, making them 7-5 when Henry returns in Week 14.
In their last five games, I would have the Titans go 4-1, taking a loss to either the Steelers or the 49ers. The Titans would then finish with a record of 11-6 or a worst-case scenario of 10-7, which is still improved from their record without Henry.
The primary difference would likely be in the playoffs. Regardless of Henry’s status, ZLO still has the Chargers as the first wildcard team, meaning LA plays the Titans in Tennesse.
So, let’s say that the Titans advance past the Chargers and into the divisional round. Assuming the divisional champion all advance, the Titans would likely take on the Buffalo Bills, who they beat earlier on in the season (albeit narrowly).
I think that the Titans would lose to the Bills in Buffalo, though I could 100% see them advancing further in the playoffs.
But, my main point was that the Titans without Henry are a first-round exit, and the Titans are still genuinely an AFC contender with Henry, even if they lose him for a certain amount of time.