Raise your hand if you remember that the Tennessee Titans finished above .500 last season. Yes, that’s right. The Titans finished 9-7 in 2018, but that wasn’t quite good enough to secure a playoff spot. Tennessee finished eighth in the AFC, with only a game separating them from the Colts, who secured the final Wild Card spot.
The fact that three teams in the AFC South finished north of the .500 mark last season was impressive. However, it’s looking as though this division will be lucky to enjoy a similar performance again this season. The defending division champion Houston Texans haven’t made many noteworthy improvements this offseason, while the Colts lost Andrew Luck to an early retirement. The Jaguars look better on paper after upgrading from Blake Bortles to Nick Foles at quarterback, but this is once again looking like a wide-open division heading into the new campaign.
Marcus Mariota has shown flashes since the Titans made him the No. 2 overall pick in the draft back in 2015, but injuries have been an unfortunate theme for him thus far. The former Heisman winner still hasn’t played a full 16 games in a single season in any of his first four years as a pro, so it’s fair to say the clock is ticking on the team’s patience with him. Mariota has led the Titans to the playoffs in the past, but Tennessee is still waiting on him to reach his full potential. Will that happen in 2019? Or will it be another mediocre season in Nashville?
With Mariota’s health a constant concern, the Titans signed former Dolphins starter Ryan Tannehill to serve as the backup quarterback. Blaine Gabbert was a disaster when he was forced to fill in for Mariota when he missed time last season. While you can certainly question whether Tannehill has been worth his own hype since he was a first-round pick back in 2012, the Texas A&M product is a clear upgrade over Gabbert, at the very least.
So, the Titans now have a passable insurance policy in case Mariota struggles with his health again.
Per Football Outsiders, the Titans’ offensive line ranked 17th in run blocking and just 29th in pass protection. So, Tennessee grabbed former Rams starter Rodger Saffold in free agency. Saffold should slide into the team’s starting left guard spot. The Titans also signed receiver Adam Humphries away from Tampa Bay. Humphries quietly topped 800 yards with five touchdowns a season ago for the Bucs, and he should fit in well opposite Corey Davis.
Brian Orakpo retired and Derrick Morgan is still a free agent, so Tennessee decided to take a chance on another former Dolphin in Cameron Wake in free agency. Wake will turn 38 in January, but he has still looked like a consistent force as a pass rusher over his last few years. Wake racked up a total of 23 sacks between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and last year he recorded six sacks.
In the draft, Tennessee scooped up defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons out of Mississippi State in the first round, and they followed that up by grabbing Ole Miss wideout A.J. Brown in the second. Simmons would have gone higher in the draft were it not for injury concerns, while some experts rated Brown as arguably the best pass-catcher in the entire draft class. Needless to say, the Titans got good value for both players at Nos. 19 and 51 overall.
|Points per Game||Passing Yards per Game||Rushing Yards per Game|
|19.4 (27th)||185.9 (29th)||126.4 (7th)|
|Points Allowed per Game||Passing Yards Allowed per Game||Rushing Yards Allowed per Game|
|18.9 (3rd)||216.9 (6th)||116.4 (18th)|
|1||Sun, Sep. 8||at Cleveland Browns||1:00pm||CBS|
|2||Sun, Sep. 15||vs. Indianapolis Colts||1:00pm||CBS|
|3||Thu, Sep. 19||at Jacksonville Jaguars||8:20pm||NFL Net.|
|4||Sun, Sep. 29||at Atlanta Falcons||1:00pm||CBS|
|5||Sun, Oct. 6||vs. Buffalo Bills||1:00pm||CBS|
|6||Sun, Oct. 13||at Denver Broncos||4:25pm||CBS|
|7||Sun, Oct. 20||vs. Los Angeles Chargers||4:05pm||CBS|
|8||Sun, Oct. 27||vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1:00pm||FOX|
|9||Sun, Nov. 3||at Carolina Panthers||1:00pm||CBS|
|10||Sun, Nov. 10||at Kansas City Chiefs||1:00pm||CBS|
|12||Sun, Nov. 24||vs. Jacksonville Jaguars||4:05pm||CBS|
|13||Sun, Dec. 1||at Indianapolis Colts||1:00pm||CBS|
|14||Sun, Dec. 8||at Oakland Raiders||4:25pm||CBS|
|15||Sun, Dec. 15||vs. Houston Texans||1:00pm||CBS|
|16||Sun, Dec. 22||at New Orleans Saints||1:00pm||FOX|
|17||Sun, Dec. 29||at Houston Texans||1:00pm||CBS|
The Titans get one of the later bye weeks in Week 11, so we should know quite a bit about this team before its break. Tennessee starts the season with three road games in the first four, with all three road games coming against potential playoff teams (Browns, Jaguars, Falcons). Week 2’s home game against the Colts should be interesting considering we really have no clue what to expect from Indianapolis at this point. One would imagine that’s a game the Titans should win, but there’s no such thing as a guaranteed victory in this league.
Three of Tennessee’s final four games heading into the bye will come in Nashville, but those are tough games on paper, as well. They’ll get the Chargers, Bucs, and Chiefs at home with a road trip to Charlotte mixed in between. Among the Titans’ first 10 games, there are really only three opponents that don’t have the look of a potential playoff team. The Broncos likely won’t be a postseason participant this year, but having to go to the Mile High City complicates that game for the Titans. Getting Tampa Bay and Buffalo at home should prove to be winnable games for this team.
Four of Tennessee’s final six games will come against divisional foes, including two games against Houston in the season’s last three weeks. That stretch could go an awful long way toward determining whether the Titans have what it takes to compete for a divisional crown. The Titans haven’t won the AFC South since 2008, and they have just three division titles to their name since moving to Tennessee in 1997.
Marcus Mariota put together a strong 2016 campaign during which he threw for over 3,400 yards with 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to replicate that form ever since. He finished with 13 touchdowns and 15 picks the year after that, and just 11 touchdowns with eight interceptions across 14 games a season ago. Mariota has the ability to impact the game with his legs, but his fragility makes running with the football quite the risk.
With the aerial attack stalling so often, it’s no surprise that the Titans were one of the best running teams in the league last season. Another former Heisman winner, Derrick Henry, broke out in his third NFL campaign. The Alabama product crossed the 1,000-yard threshold for the first time while scoring 12 touchdowns. Henry isn’t much of a factor in the passing game, but that’s where Dion Lewis came in. The lightning to Henry’s thunder caught 59 passes for 400 yards while amassing nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage a season ago.
Tennessee’s defense was stout last year, ranking third in the league in points allowed per game and sixth in passing yards allowed. I certainly have questions about their ability to get to the quarterback, but the defense should be up to the task once again in arguably the best defensive division in the NFL.
The NFL betting sites believe the Titans will be right in the thick of the AFC South race in 2019. Considering none of the division’s four teams looks like a clear-cut favorite, that’s no real surprise:
Odds via MyBookie.ag
The odds obviously favor betting the under on 8 wins at -125, compared to the over at -105. Given the schedule, it’s going to be difficult for the Titans to get off to a hot start. Winning on the road is incredibly difficult in the NFL, and the Titans are going to be tasked with trying to do so three times in the first month of the season.
The schedule balances out after that, but Tennessee may struggle to string wins together with the way their opponents are lined up. They may well beat the Bills at home in Week 5, but a trip to Denver the following week isn’t easy for any visiting team. They’ll then face three playoff contenders in four weeks heading into the bye. Four divisional matchups to close out the year could potentially help the Titans make up some lost ground, but it’s hard for me to imagine this team being much better than .500 at best again in 2019.
The Colts’ likely downfall does give the Titans a better chance to win the division. That said, anything from 6-10 to another 9-7 season looks well within the realm of possibility for this team. They’re a tough squad to project, especially because we just don’t know how much Mariota will be able to play. Having Tannehill as a backup helps, but it’s not like he’s been a consistent winner at this level, either.
The AFC South will be competitive, but it won’t be because a couple of 11-win teams are duking it out for the top spot. Whichever team wins this division is going to win ugly. This is one of the more difficult bets on the board. I’m leaning toward the over on eight wins here, primarily because there are so many winnable games from within the division.
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