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Mariota, Titans appealing as home underdog vs. Panthers

Even the worst NFL franchises get it right once in a while, and the Tennessee Titans got it right when it counted most. Marcus Mariota provides hope and a future, two things the team lacked at the end of last season.

As miserable as former coach Ken Whisenhunt’s brief era was — it was a 3-20 error — he made an important decision that will impact the team in positive ways for years. When he took Mariota with the No. 2 pick, he grabbed the best quarterback in the draft.

Chip Kelly called from Philadelphia to make Whisenhunt an offer he couldn’t refuse, but Whisenhunt refused it. Kelly has no clue who the Eagles’ franchise quarterback will be in the near or distant future. The Titans, meanwhile, have their guy.

This proclamation is not an overreaction to one game against a bad defense. In his return from injury last week, Mariota completed 28 of 39 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns in Tennessee’s overtime upset win at New Orleans. But the Saints rank 31st in the league in total defense.

On Sunday, it could be a different story against the Carolina Panthers, who rank 14th in total defense. Mariota will feel more pressure, his throwing lanes will shrink and his receivers will create less separation in the secondary.

One month into the season, Jameis Winston, the quarterback drafted No. 1 by Tampa Bay, appeared to be a bust. I’ll give Winston credit for improvement and a chance to turn himself in the right direction. But he should not have been the top pick.

Mariota is more mobile, more poised in the pocket and more accurate with his arm. The numbers, though a small sample, prove it. Mariota has completed 65.5 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns, five interceptions and a rating (101.5) good for eighth in the league. Winston has completed 57.7 percent with 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a rating (84.0) that is 21st.

Winston faced the Panthers on Oct. 4 and threw four interceptions in a 14-point loss. Here’s hoping Mariota fares much better.

Tennessee, No. 6 in total defense, fielded an inspired team last week with interim coach Mike Mularkey in charge. The boost from a coaching change could be good for another week, and it worked for Miami for two weeks.

It’s also a flat spot for the Panthers, who are 8-0 and off a series of big games against Green Bay, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Seattle. I’ll side with the Titans as 5-point home underdogs.

Drafting the right quarterback can change a franchise. Oakland found its man in Derek Carr. Tennessee’s future is much brighter with Mariota.

Four more plays for Week 10 (home team in CAPS):

* Cowboys (+1½) over BUCCANEERS: After six straight losses without Tony Romo, it’s tough to like much about Dallas. The Cowboys are in chaos, with Dez Bryant and Greg Hardy acting idiotic and disrupting the locker room. But there still is a significant talent gap between these teams. Tampa Bay is terrible at home, going 1-11 straight up in its past 12 games.

* RAIDERS (-3) over Vikings: Minnesota’s lucky run of seven straight covers is due to stop. The Vikings have two road wins, but they came at the expense of Chicago and Detroit, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is returning after getting knocked out last week. Oakland is 5-2 against the spread in its past seven home games.

* GIANTS (+7½) over Patriots: Bill Belichick has problems with only one team in the league, and this is it. The New England coach has lost three in a row, including two Super Bowls, to the Giants. He’s also 4-8 ATS in his past 12 as a road favorite. The Patriots are banged up at a time when the Giants are on the upswing. Most books are at 7, but the hook is available, so get the best number.

* SEAHAWKS (-3) over Cardinals: It’s rare to see Seattle as such a short home favorite. In a prime-time game, and with Arizona holding a two-game lead in the NFC West, expect the Seahawks to show a greater sense of urgency. Marshawn Lynch is questionable on the injury report, but Seattle is deep at the running back position, and Lynch probably will play.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 25-17-3

— Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him: @mattyoumans247

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