NFL Preview: Can Titans Rise in NFC South?

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The Tennessee Titans made nice strides in the 2016-2017 NFL Season. The Titans improved to 9 and 7 last season. The key on offense was quarterback Marcus Mariota. The key on defense was an attitude that allowed the Titans to hold teams like the Kansas City Chiefs to 14 points in a 17 to 14 win in a Week 15 road win.

Tennessee Titans 2017 Preview

Both Mariota and the attitude on defense should serve the Titans well in the 2017-2018 NFL Season. How well is the question. The NFC South has become deliriously deep. Although the Houston Texans are the favorites, Jacksonville projects to be much improved while Indianapolis still has that QB named Andrew Luck under center.

As long as Luck plays for Indy, the Colts should be tough. Where does that leave the Tennessee Titans? I try to answer that question in my Tennessee Titans 2017 preview. A team that plays their home games in Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

Is QB Marcus Mariota on the Cusp of Greatness?

Some NFL analysts question Mariota’s straight ability to pass the football. The former Oregon Heisman Trophy winner completed passes for 7.6 yards per in his rookie season. In his second season, Mariota once again completed passes for an average of 7.6 yards.

Although the per pass completion average isn’t impressive, everything else Marcus did last season was impressive. He only threw 6 interceptions compared to 26 touchdowns. He completed 61.2% of his passes. His QB rating came out to 95.6.

Mariota also rushed 60 times for 349 yards. He averaged 5.8 yards per rush while throwing 2 TDs. There’s plenty of signs that Mariota, who does go into the season off an injury that ended his 2016 NFL Season, becomes one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

The key for Mariota could be the wide receiver options

Mariota’s top option in the passing game last season was tight-end Delanie Walker. Walker is a great tight-end. But, when the tight-end is the only real receiving option, things can get tough for a QB.

The Titans drafted WR Corey Davis from Western Michigan with their Round 1 pick. Tennessee drafted Davis 5th in Round 1. They were dead set on drafting the best wide receiver available to help Mariota. Davis has been hurt. When he gets healthy, he should stretch the field like a 5-year veteran.

Tajae Sharpe had a decent rookie season. The wide receiver from Massachusetts, caught 41 passes for 522 yards. He scored 2 TDs. Sharpe should have a much better season if Davis is as good as advertised.

With Sharpe running underneath routes and Davis going long, Mariota’s going to have plenty of options in the passing game. It should all add up to Walker again playing like one of he Top 3 tight-ends in the NFL. Last season, Walker caught 65 passes for 800 yards. He caught 7 TD passes. Those numbers are about as good as it gets in the NFL for tight-ends without the last name Gronkowski or Kelce.

Titans Rushing Attack Might be the Best in the NFL

The Tennessee Titans rushing attack should once again be one of the top units in the league. It starts with an offensive line that’s absolutely stacked. In 2016, the line produced the third best rushing team in the NFL based on rush yard per game. Only Buffalo, with 164.4 rush yards per, and Dallas, with 149.8 rush yards per, ran for more yards than Tennessee’s 136.7 per game.

Tennessee not only boasts one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but it also boasts 2 excellent running backs in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Murray rushed for 1,287 yards from 293 carries. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry. He scored 9 rushing TDs. Murray also caught 53 passes for 377 yards. He caught 3 TD passes.

Henry, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, should once again serve as Murray’s back-up. There’s no reason to change things up when Murray is so effective. Still, Henry should get more than the 110 rush attempts he got last season. Henry averaged 4.5 yards per carry. He rushed for 5 TDs.

Both running backs are effective enough to keep defenses guessing. They both are decent pass-catchers out of the backfield. Both will get enough carries for Tennessee’s rushing attack to once again be a Top 5 unit in the NFL.

If the rushing game excels this season, Mariota really has no excuses. He should find the open receiver on almost every passing down. Why? The Titans should be able to fake to Henry or Murray all day.

Titans’ Defense Ready to Rock It?

Nashville is Music City. Most every big time album produced nowadays is produced in Nashville. Is Tennessee’s defense ready to rock it?

That’s the main question going into the 2017-2018 NFL Season. The Titans D played well last season. Tennessee held opponents to an average of 357.5 yards per game. That ranked 20th in the NFL based on average yards allowed per.

Most of the yards that Tennessee allowed occurred in the passing game. The Titans stopped the rush about as well as any defense in the league. Tennessee ranked second versus the rush. Opponents averaged 88.3 yards per game on the ground versus the Titans. Dallas, at 83.5 rush yards allowed per game, was the only defensive unit better against the run than Tennessee.

The biggest issue is that because the Titans allowed so many passing yards, teams were able to score points. Tennessee’s defense gave up an average of 23.6 points per game. There were some terrible performances.

Indianapolis scored 34 points against the Titans D in one of the Colts’ wins. Indy scored 24 in the second Colts win over Tennessee. The Chargers scored 43 points versus Tennessee in Week 9. Jacksonville scored 38 in Week 16.

Tennessee won’t make the playoffs if the front 7 can’t pressure the QB on passing downs

It’s never an excuse to say it’s all about the secondary. The reason is because it never is all about the secondary. Pressure on the quarterback is the way to get the secondary to play better.

The Titans should be better at pressuring QBs in 2017. Round 5 pick Jayon Brown, a linebacker from UCLA, has proven to be incredibly effective during the preseason. If Brown can maintain some consistency once the regular season starts, he’ll add to a Titans’ front 7 that should be much improved.

The secondary received a couple of major upgrades at the cornerback position. Depth is a concern but Logan Ryan comes over from New England where he’s used to winning football games. USC corner Adoree Jackson, whom the Titans drafted 18th in Round 1, has the tools to be a shut down guy.

Moving Kevin Byard from strong safety, where he blitzed many times last season to help pressure quarterbacks, to free safety is huge. That can change the entire dynamic in the secondary.

2017-2018 Tennessee Titans Schedule

Tennessee plays 4 road games and 3 home games in their first 7. The road games are against Jacksonville, Houston, Miami, and Cleveland. To me, that’s 4 wins. Jacksonville doesn’t have the passing attack yet to challenge Tennessee’s secondary while Houston, Miami, and Cleveland shouldn’t have the offense to stick with Mariota and Tennessee’s offense.

The 3 home games are versus Oakland, Seattle, and Indianapolis. I’m not sure Oakland beats Tennessee. Seattle should while Indianapolis might. I believe the Titans go into their Week 8 bye with a 5 and 2 record.

Starting in Week 9, Tennessee plays 5 home games and 4 road games. Tennessee should beat Arizona and San Francisco on the road. They should lose to Pittsburgh and Indianapolis on the road. The record now becomes 7 and 4.

I project Tennessee to win 3 of their 5 home games starting in Week 9. Also I believe Tennessee beats Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Jacksonville. I think the Titans lose to Houston and the L.A. Rams.

The Tennessee Titans regular season record should end up at 10 and 6.

Tennessee Titans Super Bowl 52 Odds

The odds on the Tennessee Titans to win Super Bowl 52 are currently at 40 to 1. I believe their odds should be no worse than 20 to 1. Marcus Mariota played much better last season than many realize. With Corey Davis in the fold, Mariota should turn into one of the better passers in the NFL this season.

The rushing attack has the potential to be the best in the NFL while the defense, especially with the slight change of moving Byard to free safety from strong safety, could improve mightily. I like Tennessee to win the AFC South. That means the Titans make the playoffs.

Tennessee is a fantastic bet to win Super Bowl 52 at 40 to 1 odds.

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson

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