By the grace of our wonderful owner MJ, I am forced to start this new series with his favorite team. Now, the Tennessee Titans aren’t my least favorite team, but I am a Texans fan. Needless to say, I don’t particularly like the Titans, but it’s undeniable that this team is the most well-rounded in the AFC South. They have a talented young quarterback surrounded by a great supporting cast, and a veteran front seven on the other side of the ball. This squad’s best years are clearly ahead of them.
The AFC South Is Locked and Loaded
Remember the NFC East before the 2016 Season? It was recently known as the “NFC Least” because of its failure to present a dominant team. In fact, an NFC East Team hasn’t won the division back-to-back since the Philadelphia Eagles did it from 2001 to 2004. Suddenly in 2016, the NFC East became the best division in football with the arrival of stars like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, Landon Collins, and Carson Wentz. It is now the AFC South’s turn to resurge. Talent is mounting in the South, and the Tennessee Titans may be leading the way.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the true mold of the modern NFL quarterback. The name of his game is efficiency (especially in the redzone) and mobility, and I predict his trend to continue in the positive direction. Yes, Marcus Mariota had a great second season in the NFL, but his broken leg raises questions on just how much more he will improve this year if at all. In fact, after their leg injuries, quarterbacks Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb, Ben Roethlisberger, and Joe Flacco all had at least a minor dip in product in the seasons immediately following their respective leg injuries. Even after a broken fibula, I fully expect Mariota to slightly exceed his 2016 performance with over 3,900 Passing Yards, over 30 total touchdowns, and a passer rating just touching triple digits.In 2016, stats like these would’ve made Mariota the 6th most efficient quarterback in the NFL.
QB Marcus Mariota: 3,950 Passing Yards, 32 Total Touchdowns, 11 INTs, 65% Completion Rate, 100.0 Passer Rating
Mariota’s Supporting Cast
Although the edition of first round wide receiver Corey Davis seems good and dandy, he is already being overshadowed by other receivers in camp including co-draftee Taywon Taylor, but I think Titan’s fans remember the great Tajae Sharpe (Insert Laughing Emoji Here). The edition of Eric Decker should add another redzone target for their mistake-free redzone quarterback, but I don’t expect 1,000 yards from him either. In fact, I think the only receiver with a chance to exceed triple digits is 6th year veteran Rishard Matthews. With the edition of 3 new competitive receivers Mariota may be spreading the ball around even more this season, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Titan’s offense. Tom Brady thrives off of numerous role playing receivers, and has a playmaking tight end to rely on. The Titans have one of those, too.
WR Rishard Matthews: 60 Receptions, 970 Receiving Yards, 6 TDs
WR Eric Decker: 70 Receptions, 840 Receiving Yards, 8 TDs
Delanie Walker will probably take a small step back in 2017 at age 33, but he should still provide a decent security blanket and red zone target for Mariota. Behind Walker, there is not much at the tight end position. Rookie Jonnu Smith reminds many of Delanie Walker in college, but tight ends are known to take multiple years to become true contributors.
TE Delanie Walker: 60 Receptions, 780 Receiving Yards, 7 TDs
Although Demarco Murray will continue to inhibit Derrick Henry’s rise to the starting spot at runningback, the one-two-punch of both backs will proceed as the best in the division. With all five starting offensive linemen returning in 2017, Mariota, Murray, and Henry should enjoy another year behind arguably the best offensive line in football.
RB Demarco Murray: 280 Carries, 1,200 Rushing Yards, 10 Total TDs
RB Derrick Henry: 134 Carries, 600 Rushing Yards, 6 Totals TDs
In 2016, the Tennessee Titans ranked 11th in yards per game, 14th in points per game, 3rd in rushing, but only 25th in passing. This offense has all the makings to be a top ten offense in the NFL. If Mariota can take another big step forward, we may see the rise of an elite offense.
Six of the Titans talented front seven are returning in 2017. The nose tackle position actually received an upgrade from Al Woods in Super Bowl Champion Sylvestor Williams. This veteran front seven ranked 2nd in the NFL against the run in 2016, and there is every reason for them to return in elite form. With an average age of 27.9 years, this front seven may be entering its prime in 2017.
The secondary has been the Titan’s achilles heal as of late, and I’m not of the belief that this will change. The 30th ranked passing defense in 2016 received some new faces this offseason. After a fairly impressive rookie campaign, safety Kevin Byard will be replaced by former Jaguar Johnathan Cyprien. The physical Cyprien is likely to play free saftey after being known for his tackling in 2016. Da’Norris Searcy will replace Rashad Johnson at the other safety spot, and I don’t know how much of an upgrade this will be either.
By far, the shiniest new toy is cornerback Logan Ryan. The former Patriot looks to take over the lead role among the Titan’s cornerbacks after playing second fiddle to Pro Bowler Malcolm Butler in New England. Ryan is expected to be the number one corner on a defense that had the highest percentage of man coverage played at 49.6% of defensive plays. It will be interesting to see if Logan Ryan can be the true number one corner they’ve been looking for. They also drafted Adoree’ Jackson out of USC who saw a lot of struggle in man coverage against elite college receivers like John Ross, but if he starts in the slot instead of the number two corner spot, he will be an immediate contributor. The rotation of “no-names” at the Titan’s number two corner spot will continue with second year player Leshaun Sims.
I expect an improvement from this secondary (not much room for deterioration), but this is still a bottom half secondary in the NFL.
I kept this schedule prediction simple. I think the AFC South is a wash, but a talented wash. I wouldn’t be surprised if every team splits with each other. That’s what I have happening here. I also have the Titans generally losing to good passing attacks, and beating those they can overcome. 10-6 will be enough to win this division, but it will be a closer and much improved division.
Titans’s Schedule and Record Prediction
Week 1: L vs Oakland Radiers
Week 2: L @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 3: W vs Seattle Seahawks
Week 4: L @ Houston Texans
Week 5: W @ Miami Dolphins
Week 6: W vs Indianapolis Colts
Week 7: W @ Cleveland Browns
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: W vs Baltimore Ravens
Week 10: L vs Cincinnati Bengals
Week 11: L @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 12: L @Indianapolis Colts
Week 13: W vs Houston Texans
Week 14: W @ Arizona Cardinals
Week 15: W @ San Francisco 49ers
Week 16: W vs Los Angeles Rams
Week 17: W vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Final Record: 10–6
I have the Titans coming out of the AFC South, but I don’t know how far they could go in the playoffs. There is very little playoff experience on this unit, so I think the AFC South will still have trouble putting a significant dent in pursuit of a Super Bowl.