NFL: Predicting the Tennessee Titans' Season Game by Game
The Tennessee Titans are coming off a 9-7 season in which they barely missed the playoffs, having lost the head-to-head tiebreaker with Cincinnati. The Titans let a couple of games slip away, as well as handing the Colts their first win of the season in Week 15.
Matt Hasselbeck had an excellent start to the year, but faded down the stretch, being replaced by Jake Locker several times during games.
Now it's Jake Locker's team and the Titans will sink or swim with Locker's play. They'll have to take the bad with the good from the first-year starter. The defense will have to improve from 2011, Chris Johnson will have to have a bounce-back year and the Titans' receivers will have to stay healthy.
It's pretty impressive that the Titans managed a 9-7 record last year despite all their shortcomings. The key for the Titans this year will be to overcome their brutal early-season schedule. They'll have to come out of the opening month 2-2 to put themselves in a good position to contend for a playoff spot.
Even though the Titans will field a more talented roster than last season, a slow start would ruin their season, as they don't have the necessary talent to recover from one.
Week 1: Vs New England Patriots
Although both teams are very different from 2009, it's hard for fans of either team to forget the last meeting between these two teams. The Patriots stomped the Titans 59-0 at home three seasons ago to push the Titans down to 0-6. Tennessee hit rock bottom, and Kerry Collins lost his starting job to Vince Young afterwards.
It's safe to say, this time around the score won't be 59-0 again, but New England is just too well-rounded as a unit for the Titans to overcome at this point in their season. Add in the fact the Titans will be without Kenny Britt, who's serving a one-game suspension and they just don't have the firepower to match the Patriots' offense. This game will be closer than a lot of people think, but the Patriots will pull away in the end.
New England 34,
Week 2: At San Diego Chargers
Historically speaking, the Titans face another tough match-up, traveling out west to play San Diego.
The Chargers have won the last eight meetings over the franchise, dating back to 1993. The last meeting between the two was in 2010, when the Titans came in on fire at 5-2, only to see them lose Vince Young and Kenny Britt to injuries.
The Chargers took the Week 8 meeting 33-25 and the Titans never recovered, losing seven of their next eight games, which spelled the end of the Vince Young and Jeff Fisher era in Nashville.
Mike Munchak gets his first shot at the Chargers as head coach, and fortunately he catches them early in the season, when the Chargers always seem to be at their weakest. The Chargers lost Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert in free agency, plus Ryan Mathews and tackle Jared Gaither may not be back from injury in time for this game.
This comes down to how sharp Philip Rivers is and if the Chargers can shake their bad habit of being slow starters.
Kenny Britt should be back for this game assuming he doesn't suffer another setback after his knee surgeries this offseason.
San Diego's injuries and early-season struggles will be their downfall in this game. The Titans will come out desperate for a victory, and will finally overcome the Chargers in a tight affair.
San Diego 23
Week 3: Vs. Detroit Lions
The Titans' last meeting with the Detroit Lions came on Thanksgiving Day four years ago. The Titans crushed the winless Lions 47-10 to move to 11-1 while the Lions moved to 0-12. Boy, how things have changed in the NFL.
Jim Schwartz will make his return to Nashville for the first time since taking the Lions' head-coaching job following their 0-16 season.
Detroit will come into Nashville fielding an explosive offense, a stout defensive line, but an erratic secondary. Jake Locker's mobility will allow him to buy some time from the Lions' pass rush and allow him to exploit Detroit's weak secondary. Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright should enjoy big days, while Chris Johnson should be able to break a couple of big runs along the outside.
The Lions' play-makers on offense will make life difficult for the Titans all game, but this is a game where Locker will enjoy one of his best outings of the season. The Lions have much bigger advantages in certain areas, but, overall, Tennessee will show more team balance.
Week 4: At Houston Texans
This is arguably the biggest game of the season for the Titans. A win in Houston would mean so much to their playoff hopes. Last year, the Texans were so deep in talent. After thrashing the Titans 41-7 at LP Field in Week 7, the Texans coasted to the AFC South title—despite several big injuries.
The Titans squeaked by the Texans' backups in Week 17 by a score of 23-22, and that was with third-stringer T.J Yates starting at quarterback for Houston, as the Texans had nothing to play for. Even then, it took a failed two-point conversion from Houston—rather than kicking the extra point for the tie—for the Titans to hang on.
The Texans did lose Mario Williams to free agency, and traded DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia, but they're still a team rich in talent and are the favorites to take the AFC South once again.
Their talent will be too much for the Titans to overcome on the road, as Tennessee is devoid of elite players on defense and unproven on offense. Locker will have a tougher week and the Texans will take control of the AFC South through the first month of the season.
Week 5: At Minnesota Vikings
The Titans face a much easier test following their trip to Houston, albeit in a tough building. The Minnesota Vikings field a very weak roster this season, expected to be much closer to a possible no.1 overall draft pick than a playoff spot.
The Titans will be right in the middle of the pack come October and cannot afford to let a game like this one slip away. Tennessee will succeed in the Metrodome, with Chris Johnson having a great day running the ball and Jake Locker avoiding turnovers.
This game features two of the greatest running backs in the league, which should make it an interesting game to watch for your fantasy teams. Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson will each have 100-yard games here, but Johnson's supporting cast will be what decides the game.
The Vikings will hang around, but a late Rob Bironas field goal will put the game out of reach and allow the Titans to move back over .500
Week 6: Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
While Week 1 may be Jake Locker's toughest battle at his position this season, Week 6 will be his biggest test as a quarterback.
Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense is creeping up in age, they're still a scary unit and one that will be licking their chops when playing a first-year starter.
This will be the Titans' big chance to show the nation how good they are in their first prime-time game of the season, on Thursday Night Football.
Last year, Ben Roethlisberger torched the Titans' defense, going 24-of-34 for 228 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Steelers to a 38-17 victory, while the defense was their usual stingy self.
One year later, the Titans are a little improved, but still not quite enough to really push Pittsburgh to the brink. Locker will make a couple of rookie mistakes and the Steelers will capitalize.
The game will be closer than last year's, but still a convincing win for the Steelers, and the Titans will be knocked back down to .500 in what will be a crucial loss in determining their playoff hopes, as Pittsburgh may very well be a wild card team the Titans will be competing with for a spot.
Week 7: At Buffalo Bills
Chris Johnson enjoyed one of his best outings of 2011 in Buffalo, gaining 153 yards on 23 carries and scored both of Tennessee's touchdowns in a 23-17 victory.
The Titans will need a repeat of that feat from CJ, especially given Buffalo's vaunted defensive line this season, which features Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson. If healthy, they will be a huge obstacle for the Titans' offense to overcome.
The Bills will need to establish a running game of their own, between Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller. Fred Jackson was on his way to a M.V.P like season in 2011, before suffering a fractured fibula. Without him, Buffalo's playoff hopes went out the window.
The Titans' passing game was a non-factor last year against the Bills, with Matt Hasselbeck going 16-of-25 for 140 yards. The key was not turning the ball over, while the Bills lost two fumbles.
With Kenny Britt hopefully being healthy going into this match-up, as well as the addition of Kendall Wright in the draft, the Titans could have a lot more for the Bills to think about this year.
The Bills' defense will keep them in this game, but in the end, Ryan Fitzpatrick won't be able to make enough plays for the Bills to pull off the win. It may very well come down to who has the ball last, which I like the Titans' offense just a little more.
Week 8: Vs. Indianapolis Colts
This will be the first battle between Jake Locker and Andrew Luck.
Last year, the Titans were the first team the Colts defeated, and the loss ultimately came back to bite them after Week 17, when the 9-7 record fell just short of the playoffs.
The Colts should be a much better team this time around; not a playoff team yet, but a lot of progress under a promising young quarterback in Luck and a new attitude under Chuck Pagano.
They can't be overlooked by the Titans.
They need to attack the Colts' weaknesses, which include being undersized on defense, and a rebuilding offsensive line.
Tennessee has to win the battles in the trenches and use their big offensive targets in Kenny Britt and tight end Jared Cook. Indianapolis will be able to attack the Titans' young defense at various points in the game, but the Titans have a little more room for error than the Colts do.
The Titans will jump out to an early lead, but the Colts will give them a little scare in the fourth quarter, before falling just short of a rally.
Week 9: Vs. Chicago Bears
This will be one of the tightest games of the Titans' season. The Chicago Bears are one of those teams that many expect to take a huge leap this year. This meeting takes place right as November begins, where the contenders and pretenders begin to separate.
The Bears and Titans will be very evenly matched in this outing. The Bears will have Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Devin Hester while the Titans counter with Locker, Johnson, Britt, Wright and Cook. The Bears' defense should be solid as usual, while the Titans look to stay consistent this year.
The last meeting between these two came in 2008, at Soldier Field, where the Titans won 21-14 en route to their 13-3 season.
This Week 9 inter-conference battle will come down to how well the Titans' pass rush can take advantage of the Bears' suspect offensive line.
The Titans' pass rush was weak in 2011, only recording 28 sacks. They'll need to pressure Jay Cutler in this game, or their secondary can be picked apart with Chicago's improvement at the skill positions.
This one will go down to the wire, but in the end the Bears will win on a late Robbie Gould field goal and set the Titans back.
Week 10: At Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are expected to finish near the bottom of the AFC, if not the NFL. Assuming they're the team many expect them to be this season, this will be just what the Titans need, coming off a tough loss to Chicago.
These two last squared off in 2010, where the Titans began their post-bye run of 1-7 with a 29-17 loss in Miami.
The Titans get to go against a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill and the offense will match up against a defense that's in transition mode, adopting a 4-3 scheme this year.
The Dolphins just don't have the necessary weapons on offense to contend this season, and Tennessee will be able to take advantage of that in this match-up.
The game will be relatively low-scoring, before the Titans pull away in the second half, having established a solid running game with Chris Johnson. Tennessee will head into their bye week with a winning record.
Week 12: At Jacksonville Jaguars
As bad as the Jacksonville Jaguars were last season, they did beat the Titans in Week 1, and gave them a scare in Week 16, only losing by six.
Blaine Gabbert will look to improve under new head coach Mike Mularkey this year and the Jaguars won't be a cakewalk for the Titans.
The Jaguars have Maurice Jones-Drew back, but we'll see if his missing training camp affects his season. After all, it affected Chris Johnson last season.
Throughout their two outings last season, the Titans offense struggled to find a rhythm against the Jags' defense. Kenny Britt had an outstanding season opener with two touchdowns on five catches and 136 yards. His presence will be the difference this time around, along with the Titans' new addition of Kendall Wright and Chris Johnson will have to be the CJ of pre-2011.
The Titans' will field a more explosive offense in 2012 which will give them the edge over a Jacksonville team still trying to find their identity.
Week 13: Vs. Houston Texans
This is as close to a must-win for the Titans as it gets if they want a shot at the AFC South title ,or at least close in on a wild-card berth.
They may be able to recover from a loss for a wild card berth, but two losses to the Texans will kill their hopes of a division title. This time at LP Field, the Titans will give Houston a tougher challenge, with the offense feeling a little more comfortable and the Titans' defense having the crowd working in their favor.
Unfortunately, barring a lot of Houston injuries, they will still be the more talented team that takes the field that Sunday and will propel themselves to a tough road win. Jake Locker will have to work miracles in this one to give the Titans a shot. The Texans' defense is good enough to shut down Chris Johnson.
Houston will pull away in the fourth quarter, after the Titans put forth a great effort throughout the game, but fall just short of the major victory.
Week 14: At Indianapolis Colts
The Colts may be out of the playoff race by this point of their season, but they could make a great spoiler for contending teams and would love nothing more than to spoil a division rival's playoff hopes. Tennessee will have to be prepared for this match-up and can't afford to overlook Indianapolis.
The Titans will face a tough test on the road in Indy and will be desperate for the win, coming off a crucial loss to the Houston Texans the previous week. While the Tennessee's hopes of a divisional crown will be pretty much dead after losing the season series to Houston, they will begin to claw their way to a wildcard berth.
Andrew Luck will have begun to really assert himself as one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, and Locker will have to match him step for step. Fortunately for Locker, he has the better team around him this season, and he'll be able to get the Titans the much needed win on the road.
The offenses will take center stage in the comfortable confines of the dome and will turn into a shootout. In the end the Titans will come up with just enough plays to hold off Luck and the Colts.
Week 15: Vs. New York Jets
The Titans make their return to Monday Night Football in what could make or break their season. Coming into this one, I expect the Jets to be hanging by a thread to their playoff hopes, while the Titans will be in a viable position to earn a no.6 seed.
The Jets' offense just won't be good enough to exploit the young Titans defense and this will be one of their nights. New York's defense, while not quite as strong as they were two to three years ago, will be able to keep the Jets in the game.
A defensive struggle will ensue, before the game opens up in the second half. This just doesn't seem like it's the Jets year, as the Titans will rise to the occasion on Monday Night Football and put themselves in a good position going into the holiday season.
Mark Sanchez will have probably lost his starting job at this point, or will have been given it back after losing it to Tim Tebow. It just seems like there's too much chaos in New York to translate to wins in December, so you have to give Tennessee the edge in this one.
NY Jets 10
Week 16: At Green Bay Packers
The outcome of this game depends on just how much the Green Bay Packers need a win at this point of their season. Hopefully for the Titans, the Packers will have the NFC North and home-field advantage wrapped up by Week 16. If not, things can get ugly for Tennessee.
One team will come into this game trying to squeeze into a wild-card spot, one will likely be playing to clinch their division or home-field advantage. The Packers are just a lot more battle tested than the Titans are.
Green Bay's offense will just be too much for the Titans' offense to match, or for their defense to contain. The Packers just have too many weapons and too much chemistry to take the loss. Add in the fact that this game is at Lambeau and it's just too daunting a task for the Titans.
Tennessee's playoff hopes will be dealt a major blow in this one and will force the team to regroup in their season finale to have a shot at the postseason.
Their best hope is for the Packers to have everything wrapped up in the NFC. With the Packers in a tough NFC North though, the Packers may very much need this win to clinch their division or a first-round bye which will mean bad news for Titans fans.
Green Bay 38
Week 17: Vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Tennessee Titans' fate may very well be out of their hands come Week 17. They will still have a shot at the playoffs, but will have to wait and see how other teams fare that day before knowing if they'll be playing football in January.
The pressure will be all off the Jaguars, as they'll be out of playoff contention, while having a chance to end Tennessee's season. The Titans will have their hands full with their division foes, as Jacksonville will keep it close going into halftime.
Coming out of the second half, Jake Locker and the Titans' offense will rise to the occasion, as their desperation level will be higher than that of Jacksonville's. Locker's passing numbers will rise high in the second half and a balanced attack with Chris Johnson will get the job done.
They'll pull away as the second half goes on, and do their part on December 30th. However, the Titans will be forced to sit and watch as other teams in the playoff race finish their regular seasons.
At 10-6, the Titans will not have a sufficient record to take the AFC South, but will be right in the pack for a wildcard spot.
Looking at the Week 17 schedule, you have to look at the teams who will likely be vying for a wildcard spot. The games that feature teams expected to be teams on the playoff bubble in the AFC include, Jets vs Bills, Chiefs vs Broncos, Ravens vs Bengals, Steelers vs Browns and possibly even Raiders vs Chargers. That's pretty much every other game that could have a playoff spot up for grabs.
Assuming each of my predictions for the Titans' games this season are right (ha), the Titans will have won the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bills, Jets and Chargers, while other tiebreakers will come into affect including conference record and record against common opponents. I expect the Steelers or the Ravens to take the fifth seed, so that leaves the Titans battling it out with the Bengals, Chiefs or maybe the Broncos for the last spot.
It's impossible to predict, but I believe their 8-4 conference record will be good enough to secure the last playoff spot. Again, you can't predict this stuff, but only take a wild guess. How far the Titans go in the playoffs will all depend on their match-up. This is as far as I'm going. You can fill in the rest yourself.
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