The Titans are up for a wild season. After doing better than everyone expected last season (9-7), they have a very difficult schedule in front of them in 2012.
Although statistically the Titans have one of the easiest schedules in the league, the schedule is obviously not as easy as it sounds once you analyze the matchups. Here's a preview.
The Titans open their schedule with a very tough home game.
In 2009, the Patriots thoroughly embarrassed Tennessee with 59-0 shutout in the snow. That was the game that ended Kerry Collins' career as a starting quarterback for the Titans. After that, their sixth loss in a row, Vince Young took the keys back and led Tennessee to win eight of its last 10 games.
In 2006, the Patriots again crushed the Titans, ending their chances at a playoff run with a 40-23 whooping.
I'm as optimistic as any Titans fan, but unless there are some key injuries, I just don't see the Titans coming away with a win in their opener.
The Chargers and the Titans have an interesting history.
In 2010, it was the loss to the Chargers that started the Titans on the path from 5-2 to 6-10. On the bright side, it was that losing streak that allowed Tennessee to pick up Jake Locker and all the other rookies in the fantastic draft class of 2011.
Then there's the fact that the Chargers have won every meeting with the Titans ever since they moved to Tennessee from Houston. Once in 2010, before that in 2009, twice in 2007, in 2006, 2004 and 1998.
Next year, the Titans will look to make franchise history by taking it to them in week 2. As erratic as the Chargers were last season, expect the unexpected.
And the home schedule doesn't get any easier with a homecoming for Jim Schwartz.
To add to that little tidbit, the Lions also drafted Nick Fairley last season, a player who was expected to be selected by Tennessee (and also a player who played under Tennessee's defensive line coach, Tracy Rocker, in college).
The Lions will be favored in this matchup, but they only won one more game than Tennessee last season, so the Titans could surprise them.
Playing the Texans without Mario Williams will be interesting.
The Texans are the absolute favorite to win the AFC South next year, with the Titans as the favorite for second fiddle. If the Titans are any better than 1-2 at this point, then there will be a lot of buzz about this game.
The Titans have usually split wins with the Texans one way or another, regardless of how much better one team is than the other, and I expect it to happen next season too.
Don't get me wrong; with Schaub back in the lineup, the Texans will be frighteningly good, but they're a team the Titans know very well, so this is one of the Titans' best chances for a big upset.
This will be the Titans' first "easy" game.
The Vikings were terrible last year, and unless Christian Ponder makes enormous strides next season, they won't be any good next year either.
Now, I expect them to take Matt Kalil in the first round of the draft this year. Then the next two selections will be spent on a corner and a wide receiver, since both classes of prospects this year are very good.
However, that still leaves the team with a lot of holes. Their offensive line is getting older, their biggest offensive weapon (Adrian Peterson) could miss the beginning of the season and may not be 100 percent by this game, and they still need tons of help on defense.
This should be a pretty easy win for the Titans.
The Titans' only Thursday night game couldn't be against anyone else. In the last few years, the Titans and Steelers have emerged as a heated, bad blooded rivalry. Unfortunately for the Titans, the Steelers have gotten the better end of it.
In 2008, the Steelers and the Titans were the best teams in the AFC, but the Titans got the upper hand and beat the No. 1-ranked Steelers 31-14. Then, in celebration, LenDale White famously stomped on a Terrible Towel on national television. Steeler fans were not happy.
In 2009, the season opener was an overtime game win for the Steelers, 13-10, in a crazy game where Bironas missed two field goals and the Titans dropped two punts.
In 2010, the Steelers won again in a close, defensive game 19-11 after Jeff Fisher pulled Vince Young in favor of Kerry Collins, thus beginning the quarterback controversy that led to his firing.
Last season, despite how slow they came out of the gate, the Steelers finished strong, including a game where they beat the Titans 38-17. This year, the Steelers continue to age. Maybe this will be the season for the Titans to break the cycle.
Another one of the games that should be a win. Despite the addition of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, I don't expect the Bills to be that much better than they were last year.
Mario Williams is a dangerous pass rusher, but Mark Anderson is vastly overrated. Besides, Michael Roos and David Stewart are a pretty good answer to a couple of tough edge rushers.
Yes, the Bills will be better, but so will the Titans. Last season, the Titans lost Kenny Britt early, Chris Johnson was ineffective, and the defense featured four rookies that got regular playing time. Johnson almost has to be better than last year, Britt should finally be healthy, and those rookies will be bigger, better and stronger.
It's about a wash, and since the Titans won 23-17 the last time that the two met, I expect the result to be the same this time.
The first easy home game the Titans have is against the Colts. And no, I'm not selling the Colts short. Barring something absolutely crazy, the Colts are going to be one of the worst teams in football next season.
Keep in mind that even Peyton Manning threw 19 interceptions in his rookie year, and the Colts might be as bad as they were in 1998 right now.
The Colts are switching defensive schemes, have lost most of their good veteran players, and have holes nearly everywhere.
These should be easy wins for the Titans, but it's the NFL, and anything could happen. After all, as bad as the Colts were last year, they still beat the Titans once.
In the future though, I expect the Locker-Luck rivalry to become one of the NFL's best. I'll certainly enjoy it, and these two games could be a great preview.
Another tough home game. The Bears' record last season is deceptive. They only won eight games, but they were 7-3 before they lost Jay Cutler for the season. This year, I expect them to address the offensive line early and often in the draft.
At least this game comes in the middle of three pretty easy opponents and the bye week, so maybe the Titans will be well rested enough to give the Bears a run for their money.
As bad a s the Dolphins were in free agency, they ought to be one of the worst teams in the league next year, and they'll almost definitely be the worst in the AFC East. If the Titans can beat the Bills, they can beat the Dolphins.
Last season, the Dolphins started out as a historically bad team, losing (and failing to beat the spread) in their first six games, then losing another two before finally eking out a win against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Under Matt Moore, the Dolphins won six of their last eight games—just enough to put them outside the range to land a franchise quarterback.
With a new coach in town and a general manager who has failed to land every big name free agent he's pursued, the Dolphins are in for a long season. The Titans should bring home a W easily.
The bye week could not come at a better time. After such a rough beginning schedule, the Titans could use a rest. Luckily, the second half of the season will be much easier, with only two really tough opponents.
The easier part begins with the first game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Blaine Gabbert could suddenly improve—quarterbacks have done it in the past, and it's not outside the realm of possibility.
However, Gabbert was absolutely awful last season. He's terrified of pressure and was a bad decision maker (see the above picture for proof—he's throwing with his eyes closed).
That kind of stuff usually isn't fixable. However, the Jaguars have done a good job in bringing in a legitimate target in Laurent Robinson. They still need a No. 1 wide receiver though.
Their defense will be as good as ever next season, but the Titans should be able to handle it.
The Titans will also close the season against Jacksonville. Depending on how the rest of the season unfolds, playoffs could be on the line, or it could be a meaningless game for both teams.
The Titans have to wait a while for their primetime game, but it'll be a good one.
The Jets are a big question mark next season. Will the addition of Tebow bring the locker room together, or will a quarterback controversy tear it apart? Will Rex Ryan's usually good defense re-emerge, or will they fall flat? Will Sanchez step up, or will Tebow take his job?
I believe that the Jets will implode early next season. That said, if they do implode and Tebow manages to do anything akin to what happened last year, then it won't be a walk in the park.
Both the Jets and the Titans are on the bubble for next year as a playoff team. A few things going for or against them could be the deciding factor for both guys.
Also, who wouldn't want to see two big mobile quarterbacks duke it out against tough defenses on a Monday night?* Should be exciting.
*If Sanchez is still the starter by this point, then I retract that statement. It'll be boring, but at least the Titans will win.
Another game against another incredibly tough opponent. In January. At Lambeau.
For those of you unfamiliar with how tough it is to beat the packers at Lambeau in the wintery parts of the season, they win something like 90 percent of their games, even when they aren't as incredibly good as they've been the last few years.
Oh yeah, also they were 15-1 last year.
Oh yeah, also they won the Super Bowl the year before that with half their starters on injured reserve.
Oh yeah and also Aaron Rodgers...ya know what, forget it. Titans will lose this one, barring an act of God.
So there you have it, the Titans' season in a nutshell. Things will look very different after the draft and even more different after the season begins, but as it stands, the Titans will play six games against teams that made the playoffs, one game against a team that would have made the playoffs if they didn't get so injured, and two games against regular playoff contenders that missed the bus last year.
It'll be tough, but that's OK. The Titans could be very good next year (especially if they draft well and Chris Johnson returns to form), but they're still at least a year off from being Super Bowl contenders.
So just sit back, and take solace in the fact that, even though it looks like another 8-8 year, an 8-8 year when those losses are to the Packers, Steelers, Patriots, Texans, Lions and Bears isn't too bad.