The first year under new head coach Mike Munchak was up and down for the Tennessee Titans, as the club started 3-1 but needed a two-game winning streak to end the season to push their final record to 9-7.
Tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the final playoff spot in the AFC, Tennessee lost out on tiebreakers. While the Titans missed the postseason for the third straight season, a three-win improvement over the final year of the Jeff Fisher era and the potential emergence of a new starting quarterback in 2011 first-round pick Jake Locker gives Tennessee hope for snapping their current playoff drought.
To break that run of three straight years, the Titans will have to navigate their way through this schedule:
2012 Regular Season Schedule
Week 2 9/16: Tennessee Titans vs. San Diego Chargers, 4:15 PM ET, CBS
Week 3 9/23: Detroit Lions vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 PM ET, Fox
Week 4 9/30: Tennessee Titans vs. Houston Texans, 1 PM ET, CBS
Week 5 10/7: Tennessee Titans vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 PM ET, CBS
Week 6 10/11: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans, 8:20 PM ET, NFL Network
Week 7 10/21: Tennessee Titans vs. Buffalo Bills, 1 PM ET, CBS
Week 8 10/28: Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 PM ET, CBS
Week 9 11/4: Chicago Bears vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 PM ET, Fox
Week 10: 11/11: Tennessee Titans vs. Miami Dolphins, 1 PM ET, CBS
Week 11: 11/18: BYE WEEK
Week 12: 11/25: Tennessee Titans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 PM ET, CBS
Week 13: 12/2: Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 PM ET, CBS
Week 14: 12/9: Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts, 1 PM ET, CBS
Week 15 12/17: New York Jets vs. Tennessee Titans, 8:30 PM ET, ESP
Week 16 12/23: Tennessee Titans vs. Green Bay Packers, 1 PM ET CBS
Week 17 12/30: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 PM ET CBS
The Titans face tough road matchups with the Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers, but the rest is pretty manageable. Both the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins represent games in which Tennessee should be favored, even on the road.
Things get a little more tricky inside the state of Tennessee.
The home schedule will likely decide whether or not this team is one of postseason quality. Outside of the three divisional games, Tennessee must face five potential playoff teams in the New England Patriots, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.
Only the Bears and Jets failed to make the playoffs last season, but Chicago has made big moves this offseason and New York has a track record under Rex Ryan of being playoff competitive.
Which game on the schedule poses the biggest challenge?
Two games against the Houston Texans—the 2011 AFC South champions—won't be easy, either.
Overall, the Titans have their work cut out for them if they plan on reaching the nine- or 10-win plateau next season.
Most Pivotal Matchup
The best way to stamp your ticket to the postseason is by winning your division, and there's no doubt that any road to the playoffs through the AFC South will go through Houston. The Texans are the class of the division despite some of their losses in free agency, including right tackle Eric Winston and DE/LB Mario Williams.
Going on the road to beat the Texans would arguably be the biggest win of the Munchak era. It'd also set up the Titans to take a serious crack at snapping a three-year playoff drought, whether they do it by winning the division or through an AFC wild-card spot.