Tennessee Titans Will Start Backup QB Malik Willis Over Injured Ryan Tannehill

Posted on: December 22, 2022, 10:14h. 

Last updated on: December 22, 2022, 04:21h.

Tennessee Titans starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill has a serious ankle injury and could miss the remainder of the season if he opts for surgery. Tannehill will not play on Christmas Eve against the Houston Texans, so the Titans will promote rookie backup Malik Willis as the starter.

Ryan Tannehill Tennessee Titans Ankle injury Malik Willis Texans
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel (right) attends to quarterback Ryan Tannehill after he suffered an ankle injury against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. (Image: Getty)

The Titans have to change quarterbacks while in the middle of a tight race to win the AFC South, with a trip to the playoffs on the line. Head coach Mike Vrabel gave evasive answers during a recent press conference when beat reporters asked him who would start at quarterback against the Texans in Week 16. However, on Thursday, he confirmed Tannehill is out and Willis will start.

The surging Jacksonville Jaguars are threatening the slumping Titans, who lost four games in a row. The Titans are currently in first place in the AFC South with a 7-7 record, and the Jaguars are in second place at 6-8.

The Jaguars are in a must-win situation against the New York Jets on “Thursday Night Football.” The Jags are a +2 road dog against the Jets at MetLife Stadium.

On Wednesday, a report surfaced that Tannehill needs season-ending surgery, which affected the betting markets. The line against the Texans opened -8.5 against the worst team in the NFL, the Texans, with a 1-12-1 record. The line moved to -3 upon the news that Willis could replace Tannehill as the starter.

Tennessee QB Shuffle, Malik Willis Ready

Tannehill suffered an ankle injury on the opening possession against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15. He missed the second possession while the training staff attended to him in the locker room, but he returned to the game with a heavily-taped ankle.

Even with Tannehill playing the rest of the game, the Titans couldn’t pull off a comeback, and their losing streak was extended to four in a row.

In 12 games this season, Tannehill has a 6-6 record as the starter. He completed 65.2% of his passes for 2,536 yards and 13 touchdowns. He threw six interceptions and got sacked 33 times.

Willis started two games this season and went 1-1 as the starting quarterback when Tannehill had an illness. He won his debut as a starter against an easy opponent in the Texans in Week 8. He started again in Week 9, and nearly upset the Kansas City Chiefs. But the Titans lost by a field goal in overtime.

Willis took all the practice reps with the first team this week, while Tannehill hasn’t practiced at all.

Continuing to get those reps, those plays, understanding the concepts and what we’re trying to accomplish and who we’re trying to put in conflict,” said Willis. “Understanding that makes it a little bit easier to go execute.”

Willis completed only 44.7% of his passes for 177 yards this season. He has yet to connect on a passing touchdown and threw one interception. He looked good as a rusher with 20 attempts for 80 yards.

During Willis’ two starts, the Titans relied heavily on their run game. Superstar running back Derrick Henry rushed for 334 yards and four touchdowns in both games that Willis started.

Titans Now 46% to Win AFC South

The winner of the AFC South will secure a playoff berth and host a home game in the AFC wild-card round. On Monday, FiveThirtyEight projected the Titans had a 57% chance to win the division. That number slipped to 46% after the Titans confirmed Tannehill’s injury.

The Jaguars saw their postseason and AFC South title chances increase from 43% to 54%.

Even if both teams win in Week 16, the Jaguars will jump to a 65% chance to claim the AFC South crown, while the Titans will see their chances decrease to 35%.

The Jaguars have the easier remaining schedule versus the Titans. The Jaguars play three more games, including the Jets, Texans, and Titans in the final game of the season.

The Titans have three remaining games against the Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, and a Week 18 showdown against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. The Titans lost to the Jaguars a couple of weeks ago, which put them in this tough spot.

According to a recent update by DraftKings, the  Titans are +7000 odds to win Super Bowl LVII and the Jaguars are right behind them at +8000.

The Jaguars are the betting favorite to win the AFC South at -145 odds with the future of Tannehill in doubt. The Titans are now +115 odds to win the division.