The Tennessee Titans put their nine-year playoff drought to rest in 2017. The Titans snuck into the postseason as a Wild Card, despite a mere 9-7 record. They went on the road and stunned the Chiefs 22-21 on Wild Card Weekend, but were dismantled by the Patriots 35-14 in the Divisional Round.
Getting to the playoffs was a nice accomplishment, but GM Jon Robinson expected more from this team than what they showed. That was evident when he fired head coach Mike Mularkey after the team just posted their first back-to-back winning in nearly a decade.
Many believe the Titans struck gold when they hired Mike Vrabel to replace Mularkey. Vrabel has made a quick transition from player to head coach. His last season in the league as a player was in 2010 with Kansas City. He spent the next 3 years as an assistant under Urban Meyer at Ohio State. He moved to the NFL in 2014 and spent 3 seasons as the Houston Texans linebackers coach before the promotion to defensive coordinator last year.
With Vrabel comes a pretty drastic change on both sides of the ball. While Vrabel will likely be more hands on with the defense, there’s been a commitment this offseason to opening up the playbook on offense. Going away from their traditional style of ground and pound and trying to utilize more of the tools of quarterback Marcus Mariota.
They certainly need Mariota to avoid another setback like he had in 2017, where he posted a 13-15 TD-INT ration after a 26-9 mark the previous year. The big question is whether Mariota’s struggles were a result of the scheme or simply the lack of talent around him.
After showing signs of decline, the Titans decided to part ways with veteran running back DeMarco Murray just two years after he led the AFC in rushing with 1,287 yards. Part of the reason they let Murray go, is they wanted a bigger role for 3rd-year back Derrick Henry, who has rushed for 1,234 yards, 10 touchdowns and 4.3 yards/carry the past two years in a backup role. They also added veteran Dion Lewis, who figures to be a great compliment to Henry, given his quickness and ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
As far as Mariota’s receiving corps goes, you have to wonder if he has enough weapons at his disposal. The biggest key to this unit taking a step forward is the play of 2nd-year wide out Corey Davis, who didn’t have near the impact you would like to see from the No. 5 overall pick. Part of the problem was his rookie season was limited because of injury. He showed flashes in the playoffs, including 5 catches for 63 yards and 2 TDs in their loss to the Patriots.
Davis needs to emerge as another go-to-guy alongside veteran Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker, who led the team with 74 receptions and 807 yards. Richard Matthews, Tajae Sharp, Taiwan Taylor and Michael Campanaro are the other wide outs who could play big roles.
For the most part the offensive line remains intact, though it needs to play better than it did in 2017. Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin will be the starting tackles and Ben Jones will anchor things in the middle at center. Quinton Spain and Josh Kline started at the two guard spots and both are back, but could be pushed free agent pickups Kevin Pamphile and Xavier Su’a Filo.
As for the defense, they will incorporate more of hybrid scheme that utilizes both the 3-4 and 4-3. A style Vrabel learned from his days playing under Belichick in New England. Giving them the ability to change their attack based on their opponent.
The defensive front will be anchored by veteran defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. He will be joined by DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson and newly signed Bennie Logan. Last year’s starting outside linebackers in the Titans 3-4 where Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo. The two will be used in similar roles, as well as 4-3 defensive ends. Both could also be pushed by 2nd round pick Harold Landry out of Boston College. Veteran Wesley Woodyard will anchor the linebackers, but all eyes will be on rookie Rashaan Evans out of Alabama, who they took with their 1st round pick.
The secondary has really come a long way and should be a strength for Tennessee in 2018. The Titans added veteran corner Malcolm Butler in free agency and he will start opposite of last year’s promising 1st round pick Adoree’ Jackson. The addition of Butler will also allow Logan Ryan to move to the nickel role, where he’s better suited. At safety they get back All-Pro Kevin Byard, who will once again start opposite of Johnathan Cyprien.
As you can see, there’s a lot to like with Tennessee going into the 2018 campaign, but at the same time a lot of question marks. Will Vrabel be able to have an immediate impact and make the Titans a legit threat to the Texans and Jaguars in the AFC South? That’s the question we won’t be able to answer until we see the finished product on the field this fall.
2018 Titans Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
|7||at Chargers (London)||+3||0.41|
|9||at Cowboys MNF||+3.5||0.36|
|12||at Texans MNF||+3.5||0.36|
Projected Wins: 8.08
Over/Under Wins Prediction: UNDER 8
I would have to lean towards the Titans taking a step back in 2018 and finishing UNDER their win total of 8. While I like the addition of Vrabel at head coach, I just question if there’s enough talent on the roster for this team to finish in the upper-half of the AFC.
This was also a team that was pretty fortunate to win 9 games a year ago. The Titans only two regular season wins against a playoff team were both against the Jaguars. The first was a legit 37-16 win at Jacksonville in Week 2. The other was in Week 17, where Tennessee needed to win to just have a chance of making the postseason and the Jaguars had nothing to play for. They also had 4 wins over the likes of the Browns (OT), Ravens, Bengals and Colts by 4-points or less, as well as a win against the Texans after Deshaun Watson went down.
They ended up finishing last year 5-1 in the AFC South. A mark I just don’t see how they replicate. Houston and Jacksonville aren’t just better teams, they are legit playoff contenders. The Colts also figure to be one of the most improved teams, assuming Andrew Luck is back on the field for a full 16 games.
I think things could get ugly in a hurry given the schedule. Tennessee played 7 of their first 11 games on the road and their 4 home games during this stretch are against the Texans, Eagles, Ravens and Patriots.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +4500
I personally don’t see any value here with the Titans at +4500 to win the Super Bowl. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given I just made my case for why this team will end up the year with a losing record.
I would much rather take a shot on a team like the Ravens at +5500 or even the Seahawks at +6000 than play the Titans at this price. Same thing with some of teams just ahead of them in odds like the Chiefs (+3000), Giants (+3300), Cowboys (+3300) and Panthers (+3500).
Odds to Win the AFC: +1500
Again, I don’t see the value in Tennessee at this price. So much would have to right just for this team to make the playoffs. I think there’s a better chance they end up last in the division than in the postseason.
Odds to Win the AFC South: +330
Are the Titans capable of winning the division? Sure. Do I think it will happen? No. I’m extremely high on both the Texans and Jaguars this season and just don’t see how Tennessee can surpass both to finish on top the AFC South.