Tennessee Titans: 6 Things That Must Happen for a Playoff Berth
There is a lot of anxiety in the air heading into next season for the Tennessee Titans.
The team hasn't been to the playoffs since 2008, which was also the last time it won more than nine games in a season.
It's a common notion that head coach Mike Munchak has to get this newly assembled team to the playoffs in 2013 if he wants to make it another season.
There are many things that will have to come together for the Titans to exorcise their playoff demons, but here are six major factors that must happen.
Get off to Solid Start
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The Titans got off to a 1-4 start last season, and it doomed them right out of the gate.
That simply can't happen this season. There are just too many solid teams in the AFC that will be battling for a coveted playoff spot for the Titans to start off behind the 8-ball.
If the Titans can beat an aging Steelers team to open the regular season, then that will go a long way into helping the psyche of this team.
Outside of a Week 2 meeting with the Texans in Houston, the first quarter of the schedule looks very favorable for the Titans.
A 4-1 start heading into a road game with the Seahawks is something that could easily happen if this is indeed a changed team from the 2012 squad.
Jake Locker Shows Steady Improvement
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A good chunk of the how far the Titans can go in 2013 is how much improvement Jake Locker shows from last season, which was his first full season as a starter.
Whether you believe the criticism of Locker is fair or foul, he still has to show steady improvement for the Titans to move out of the bottom half of the NFL.
Locker is learning a whole new offense with Dowell Loggains in as offensive coordinator, and it figures to play to Locker's strengths a lot more than the previous system did.
The revamped offensive line will also do wonders for Locker's confidence, as he won't be a sitting duck nearly as often.
A young quarterback like Locker has to have a solid offensive line, and it looks like Locker finally has that.
The table is certainly set for Locker to catch the attention of people in a positive way.
Go 4-2 in the AFC South
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The Titans are 4-8 in the AFC South over the last two seasons, and a couple of those wins were meaningless victories at the end of the season.
They have to be more successful within the division in 2013, and that means taking care of business against the Jaguars.
That loss to the lowly Jaguars last season basically took the wind out of the sails of the Titans, and the rest is history.
With all of the upgrades the Titans made this offseason, they can definitely compete with the Colts for second place in the division.
It's not even out of the question for the Titans to take both games against the Colts. They almost did it last season despite losing both games.
As for the Texans, there's no denying that they are the cream of the crop in the AFC South. The Titans won't have to wait very long to get their first crack at the best the division has to offer.
The Titans have an opportunity to really take charge of their destiny by taking out the Texans on the road in Week 2.
A 4-2 record against the AFC South would put the Titans in a strong position to make a run at the wild-card spot.
A Strong Showing from Kenny Britt
Britt had 589 receiving yards in 2012
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Kenny Britt has to play like a No.1 receiver for the Titans in 2013. He can't show up for a couple of games only to disappear for the next two games.
It seems like Britt is finally starting to embrace all of the chances he's been given by the Titans to get it right.
A focused Britt suddenly makes this Titans offense a good one inside the red zone. He's such a great target in the end zone for Locker to have at this disposal.
However, everything that Britt brings to the table means absolutely nothing if he doesn't keep his mind on football.
Britt also has to be feeling the heat from the Titans drafting Justin Hunter, who can essentially offer the same things Britt can offer.
If they can coexist and both be successful, then this will be a fun offense to watch.
Next season would be a great time for Britt to conquer 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his career.
Britt's future as a member of the Titans is on life support, but hopefully he'll find new life and remain a key weapon on this offense for years to come.
Moderate Impact from Rookies
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The one rookie whom the Titans will be relying on the most will be Chance Warmack, who is widely regarded as an NFL-ready type of player.
Warmack will instantly make this offense much better from last season if his transition to the NFL is a smooth one.
Hunter is the other rookie who really needs to have a moderate impact for the Titans to make a playoff run.
Somewhere along the lines of what Kendall Wright was able to do in his rookie season would mean good things for the Titans passing offense.
You have to look at all of the weapons the Titans passing offense suddenly has to realize that Hunter doesn't have a ton of pressure on him in his rookie season.
Wright had a respectable rookie season, and he should improve even more in his second season.
Nate Washington is still a reliable veteran who will have his fair share of big catches.
You have key guys like Damian Williams and Kevin Walter who will make modest impacts throughout the season.
Hunter doesn't have to shatter the record books in his rookie season, but even a slight impact will really make this passing offense click better than it has in a long time.
The other rookies have to battle their way up the depth chart, and they'll also have their opportunity to make this a successful rookie class for the Titans.
Chris Johnson Returns to Pre-Holdout Form
Johnson rushed for 1,243 yards in 2012
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When you look at the numbers, Chris Johnson didn't have all that bad of a season in 2012. He rushed for over 1,200 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per attempt.
However, Johnson still hasn't run with the same confidence or determination since his highly-publicized holdout heading into the 2011 season.
The Titans need the Johnson back who was breaking tackles and running past defenders like it was a video game.
He still has the best raw speed at the position, but he needs the confidence back. A better offensive line, a backup running back breathing down his neck on the depth chart and a new coaching system should be the perfect ingredients to getting Johnson back to his old form.
Will he ever top 2,000 yard ever again? Probably not.
With that said, a more consistent Johnson will help everything else fall into place for the Titans.
The Titans still want to be a run-first type of team despite having some quality receivers. A strong running game will make this passing offense look much better than it really is, and that starts with Johnson becoming a more reliable runner.
The 90-yard touchdown runs are always nice, but consistent gains on first down are something the Titans really need from Johnson.
A Pro Bowl season from Johnson will almost guarantee the Titans a spot in the playoffs, and keep Munchak in Tennessee for at least a few more years.