Flash back to the 2015 NFL season. Tennessee came off of a lukewarm preseason performance of 2-2, batting a shaky .500 on their intro to the regular season. Then comes game number one. Marcus Mariota 13 of 15 passes for 209 yards and an 86.7 completion rate (the best he had all year). He passes for four touchdowns, takes only two sacks, and has a Quarterback rating of 158.3 (not unheard of but still a small group of individuals, few to none of which were during their rookie debuts).
Tennessee faces a similar situation this season and despite going 3-13 last year, they’ve actually got quite a plausible possibility of batting .500 in the regular season this year. Let’s look back at last year’s games and see what could’ve been before we come back to the present.
Week One was the blowout explosive rematch of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, NFL-Edition. Week Three the Titans lost a heartbreaking conference game to the Colts by a mere two points, finishing with 33 to their opponents’ 35. Week Five they lost to a talented Buffalo squad by a single point, 14-13. Week Seven they couldn’t quite get over the hump and fell to Atlanta in an ugly 10-7 loss. Week Nine Mariota duked it out with Brees and came up on top and also with his second highest passer rating of the year (135.7) in the 34-28 victory.
Week Twelve saw Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders barely slip past Mariota’s Titans with a 24-21 finish. In Week Thirteen the Titans retaliated with another win off of which Mariota posted 268-yards passing and 112-yards rushing. The four games that Mariota didn’t play were all losses, the closest of which being to Atlanta and the largest margin being a Week Sixteen loss by 28 to the Houston Texans.
If the Titans had won games that were within a field goal then their record would’ve been 7-9 by the end of the season. If they had managed to win the games that they lost by six or seven points, depending on what you consider to be the full touchdown package, then they would’ve finished the season at 9-7 and made their bid for wildcard candidacy. Crazy how much a season could change just because of a handful of points isn’t it?
Now let’s venture back to the present and take a look at the preseason showing the Titans put on as an entire team. In Week One the Titans managed to take down another team that was equally unimpressive last year (the Chargers) in a 27-10 victory. They led the entire game and didn’t even let the Chargers score in the second half. In Week Two they took on the Carolina Panthers and lost, a feat that many teams accomplished last season thanks to fifteen regular season wins from that squad.
Week Three saw the Titans end up on top of the Raiders with a 27-14 win while Week Four also saw a Titans win with a 21-10 win over the Dolphins, rounding out the preseason at 3-1. Fun fact: the Titans didn’t even need to score in the second half to secure that victory. Another fun fact: the Titans now have DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the backfield.
If we were to judge this NFL season by the one game that has been played thus far, it’ll be filled with close, good games. Those are the best contests, even if not all of them are tough rematches of the Super Bowl. And in matchups like these, teams like Tennessee have just as much a chance as anybody else and could capitalize on it.
Now let’s take a look at some of the opponents the Titans will face and why they have the opportunity to win and win big. If we judge these opponents by their 2015 results (a foolish thing to do but necessary nonetheless) and by what we now know for the season, we should be able to get a decently accurate reading of the future (in speculative terms only).
First up, the Titans face a battered and bruised Vikings squad on the fifteenth anniversary of September 11. It should be a memorable game for many reasons. Sure, it could prove to be a close one despite Sam Bradford stepping in more than likely at quarterback for the Vikes and Adrian Peterson resuming his impressive role at halfback, however I think Mariota and his backfield, alongside the young receiving corps have a real shot at making a standout appearance to start the season off right. My prediction for this game is that it’ll either be low scoring or a one-sided affair. All in all, they have what it takes to WIN.
Week Two sees Tennessee traveling to Detroit to take on the Lions. Depending on whether or not the Lions can capitalize on the Colts’ lack of an effective offensive line and whether they are entering this game as 1-0 or 0-1 with something to prove, I can see the battle at quarterback going either towards the experienced Matt Stafford or the young and talented former-Oregon star. If Detroit loses their first game they will more than likely fight harder during this one, making it a close call for either team for different reasons. Still, I think Tennessee has a real chance to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2008 when they went 10-0 before finishing the season 13-3 (with the best record in the league).
Week Three sees the Titans taking the fight to the Raiders, or more accurately the Raiders bringing the fight to them. I think this one is more than likely going to Oakland at this point, but only time can tell. Week Four the Titans head to Houston to take on their divisional foes who won both contests in 2015 by a large margin. Houston may be a changed team and injuries may be plaguing them right now and they may have an as of yet untested quarterback, however most teams find their rhythm after the first few games and this one is probably skewed more towards them again.
Week Five takes the Titans to Miami and all that I need to really say about this one is that unless Ryan Tannehill or somebody in Miami steps up in a big way, I think the Titans could really have this one and at least tie their previous season’s number of wins with this game. Week Six will see a matchup between Mariota and (possibly?) RG3, giving us the chance to see whether or not the latter with continue his descent into further mediocrity and whether Mariota’s team can propel themselves to a better record than 2015 on a talent and results cocktail. I think the Titans have got the depth and talent on the Browns right now.
Week Seven could show a very different Colts team to the world. By this point they could either be taking beating after beating thanks to an awful offensive line or they could somehow have things worked out enough to stifle any attempt by Tennessee to hijack the division. The AFC South is no joke. The possibility is there for any of the four teams to win and I don’t expect there to be a clear favorite until later in the season. Houston did it last year thanks to its defense, whereas Jacksonville or Tennessee could easily thanks to their offensive this year. And then there’s the unknown variable of how effective the Colts can be now that Andrew Luck is back. So the Titans could have this one or they might not. I have no clue.
Week Eight sees a talented Jaguar roster coming to town and I’ve got to say, I don’t think the Titans will win this matchup unless the Jags just don’t mesh like they started to last season by the end of things. In Week Nine the team travels to San Diego where they will face either the redemptive Chargers or the same team that suffered last year. Because it is far to early to tell, this game could go either way largely based upon the performances at quarterback and halfback for both teams.
Week Ten the Titans play the Packers and unless the Cheeseheads have somehow gone horribly horribly wrong, it’s no contest. Then again, who knows? That’s the glory of first week speculation. Week Eleven sees the return of the Colts, this time with a showdown in Indianapolis. Who will win could be decided mostly by how the season has progressed since the two last met and who lost the previous meeting and is out for blood. Week Twelve ushers in the Chicago Bears and a potentially messy matchup. However I think the Titans should have a good chance of winning that one, at least as things stand now, and can breathe a sigh of relief heading into their Week Thirteen Bye.
Week Fourteen shoves the so-far insurmountable Denver defense down Tennessee’s throat and somehow I don’t think Mariota will be able to take the hits Cam Newton can and still lead his team to at least a close second finish. This one is going to be ugly, more so for the Titans, but potentially for the inexperienced quarterback at the helm for Denver (assuming he stays there this long). Week Fifteen takes the Titans to Kansas City where the Chiefs could run rampant with a returned Jamaal Charles or generally just pound them with a healthy defense. I don’t foresee Tennessee winning this match.
Week Sixteen and it’s back to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars (this time literally IN Jacksonville). This one, like Indianapolis, could largely depend on who won and lost the previous meeting. Although if Jacksonville had their heads about them the first time I’d say they still have the upper hand here as well. Rounding out the season the Titans are taking on the venerable Texans (thankfully not in Houston). This one could go either way by this point either due to fatigue and injury or due to either squad starting to finally click.
Let’s look at what we’ve got here broken down in a much simpler way week to week, showing which games SHOULD be winnable, which COULD be a tossup, and which are probably LOSSES:
- Minnesota W Predicting 31-17
- @Detroit W Predicting 16-10
- Oakland L Predicting 27-13
- @Houston L Predicting 24-9
- @Miami W Predicting 42-17
- Cleveland W Predicting 21-12
- Indianapolis W/L Predicting anywhere from 21-7 to 27-20 either way
- Jacksonville L Predicting 28-17
- @San Diego W/L Predicting anywhere from 34-14 to 28-24 either way
- Green Bay L Predicting 38-14
- @Indianapolis W/L Predicting anywhere from 27-23 to 28-20 either way
- @Chicago W Predicting 17-9
- Denver L Predicting 31-10
- @Kansas City L Predicting 24-6
- @Jacksonville W/L Predicting anywhere from 21-10 to 24-16 either way
- Houston W/L Predicting anywhere from 21-17 to 17-7 either way
Looking at these potential results the Titans SHOULD be able to reach a win count of at least five games. They just have to topple the Vikings, Lions, Dolphins, Browns, and Bears in order to do so. Assuming they lose the rest of the games then they’re 5-11 for the year. Assuming they win ALL of those games then they could very well go 10-6 which is a huge difference. However, due to that there is the possibility of them going .500 and winning eight games.
I could potentially see victories in weeks one and two, back to back losses in three and four before regaining their footing and winning three in a row. Then continuing the season with a loss in week eight to Jacksonville, beating San Diego the next week before losing again to the Packers in week ten, losing the second game and splitting the series with Indianapolis, beating the Bears before the Bye Week, and then losing three of their last four- maybe getting the W over either Jacksonville or a wearied Texans defense. And that fits the 8-8 bill right there.
So this lengthy little piece is just one of many that could be written on really any of the thirty-two teams in the league this year, concerning why they should be looked at and not taken for granted. Before I sign off, let’s look at some of the other teams that could be sneaky good or at least not completely horrible…
- The Good:
- Arizona Cardinals- All the pieces that are relevant are still there. Forget that horrible loss to Carolina in the Championship Title and you’ve got a relevant team.
- Seattle Seahawks- They aren’t the same team they once were seeing as many people have been traded about and some have even retired. But the run game is still strong and the play at quarterback only gets better and more relevant by the year.
- Carolina Panthers- Sure, they dropped the ball and lost their first game of the season and rematch with Denver. It happens. But for all the bad there was a lot of good there and the force is still strong with this one, perhaps even more so than last year. Meaning they could actually do even BETTER.
- Green Bay Packers- Apparently this is the team picked to have one of the best chances to win it all. And for good cause I would say. Where you’ve got Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson and the crew healthy, magic happens.
- Denver Broncos- Fresh off a win and proving the haters wrong at least in the sense that they could topple Carolina not once but twice, Denver looks strong even with some positions unsure. The run game carried the team as did the incredible and brutal defense.
- Cincinnati Bengals- These guys could’ve had their playoff victory if only they had had the discipline not to throw the game away. They’ve got plenty of potential here and now they have even more to prove.
- New England Patriots- So they could potentially go 0-4 to start the season thanks to suspensions and injuries to key players. But the talent pool is there and the depth and the coaching. So despite even that horrid possibility, this is a team to be on the lookout for.
- Pittsburgh Steelers- The Steelers beat the Bengals, sort of (the Bengals beat themselves), and yet here they still are. There’s talent for sure on the offensive side of the ball even without key playmakers. And although there’s work to be done on the defensive side of things, it’s still solid. Mistakes will be made but they can be recovered from.
- Kansas City Chiefs- If they can getting their running game healthy again then the combination of running threat and steady defense is sure to rock the foundations of even the most solid opponents. These guys are deceptively good when they work together. They went on quite the streak last year.
- Oakland Raiders- If you’re surprised to see these guys up this far then you’re probably not the only one. 2015 was quite a year even if they missed the .500 marker by one. Carr and Cooper alone are a threat, not to mention the defensive talent as well.
- The Sneaky:
- Houston Texans- Okay, by now there’s no doubt that Houston has a great defensive front and great talent (when healthy) on that side of the ball. But their offensive prowess always differs year to year and could finally make that connection under Brock Osweiler. There’s potential here.
- Minnesota Vikings- I’ll bet you think I’m crazy for “lowering” this successful playoff team that should’ve had the victory over Seattle in the bag. However this is where they rest, twelfth overall considering the recent injury at quarterback above all else. There’s too much that’s unsure right now and that’s going to affect them.
- Washington Redskins- These guys put on quite the show the second half of the last season and look to continue that trend even after a disappointing playoff loss that ended their run. They reminded me a lot of the underdog Giants in their Super Bowl victory seasons here the past few years. And they certainly have some potential to do damage.
- Buffalo Bills- The Bills are not a bad team at all and in fact I think they could’ve done even better last year and given the Patriots a run for their money for real. Now they have the chance to do that again, especially with their rivals down a quarterback for the first few games.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers- These guys did a lot of wheeling and dealing, plus they have talent in their young quarterback, PLUS they have Doug Martin who is pretty damn good at playing his position. They should at least do better than six games this year. The potential is there.
- Jacksonville Jaguars- These guys have finally put together an offensive unit that can hold its own again, now they just have to figure out the defensive side of things. If they can prevent themselves from imploding and they can keep everyone healthy, they could be a force to be reckoned with.
- New York Jets- The Jets are surprisingly not a bad team. Honestly it pains me a little bit to say it having seen mediocre results and bad plays here and there for the past couple of years or more. They have good players they just need to get used to using them.
- Dallas Cowboys- I can’t think of any stronger reason for having a much more successful year than last year’s for the Cowboys than a healthy receiving corps and healthy quarterback. Now whether that quarterback is the fresh breathe of air that Dak offers or Romo’s familiar wiles shouldn’t matter. In either’s hands the team should be in a good place. And let’s not forget Ezekiel Elliott shall we?
- Tennessee Titans- I’ve already made my case for the Titans here and perhaps you thought I would rank them higher because of it, but as of right now I’m being a bit more realistic as well as optimistic for their season. You’ve got deep talent in the backfield and on the offensive side of things and the defense needs to step it up too.
- Baltimore Ravens- These guys haven’t had a bad season in a long time, at least up until last year’s fluke incident. Without Joe Flacco the team just couldn’t get itself together even with the rest of the offensive talent there. But I think this season should be a return to form or at least very nearly so.
- The Shabby:
- Atlanta Falcons- Julio Jones is coming off of a spectacular year and although they were met with mediocre results, the Falcons have a chance to get back to being good. But there’s a lot of new stuff to account for as well, plus Matt Ryan needs to get his act together again.
- New York Giants- Never underestimate Eli Manning or the Giants. They’ve done more with significantly less. They’ve even won Super Bowls when people weren’t looking. Despite ironically being giantslayers in the past, they’ve got a few hurdles to get over first and some bumps to smooth out this season.
- New Orleans Saints- Okay so there are problems on both sides of the ball but the talent is still undeniably there and once they get into a rhythm again they may just have a chance at breaking even, or getting another winning season.
- Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins haven’t been good in a long time but that’s not to say they’ve always been bad. The most likely reason for their mediocrity is that they’re constantly overshadowed by the talent in the gene pool that is the New England Patriots. Besides that, they’ve got to step up their game and try to win a few times at least.
- Detroit Lions- The Lions have been dealt some bad cards the past few years and often have just been downright unlucky. I mean, letting Aaron Rodgers clutch victory from the jaws of defeat with zero seconds on the clock thanks to a deep bomb into the endzone? Come on. But they’ve got talent at the helm and in the receiving corps and that ought to count for something.
- Los Angeles Rams- So Saint Louis sort of got a name change? But they’re no new team by any means, as the same issues still wait under the surface. But let’s look at the fact that they have Todd Gurley who is basically a phenom so long as he can build upon a stellar first year in which he didn’t even play all sixteen games and still came in third overall rushing. Talk about talent.
- San Diego Chargers- If they can crush their unlucky streak and use some good voodoo to banish the thoughts of last season then these guys could be something else. They’ve got Philip Rivers still and they’ve got rich potential at running back as well as potentially at receiving options.
- Cleveland Browns- The Browns might not actually be the worst team in the league even with the loss of some mediocre players and bombed out prospects. They’ve got a spark of talent if they just dig deep enough to bring it to the surface and utilize it properly. Plus maybe they’ll actually fix the quarterback situation for once.
- Philadelphia Eagles- The Eagles really don’t seem to know what’s going on but at least they made some decent moves and got a few good trades going. They’re certainly not what they once were and they’re kind of in a limbo these past few years, but they could turn that all around soon.
- Indianapolis Colts- It’s crazy how important something like an offensive line is but when it’s in place to protect your quarterback, especially one who sat out most of the previous season due to injury (after successful playoff run seasons before) then it obviously makes a difference in games. Fix that problem.
- The Awful:
- Chicago Bears- I suppose they could rely on the rushing game or perhaps Jay Cutler actually throwing more completions than picks but we will have to see how things go.
- San Fransisco 49ers- Do we really have to go over this? It’s enough that they’re getting their names in the news for pretty much anything but doing well in games, but they can’t nail down who is going to produce at quarterback and the only good thing going for them right now is Carlos Hyde.