4 Bold (and Slightly Less Bold) Predictions for the 2014 Tennessee Titans
Predictions are currently running rampant for all 32 NFL teams with the regular season still three months away.
For the Tennessee Titans, the predictions are even more challenging due to a lot of new faces being led by a predominantly new coaching staff.
The Titans started off strong last season, winning three of their first four, only to fall apart during the middle portion of the season to miss the playoffs yet again.
The AFC South is very weak in comparison to other divisions, but the Indianapolis Colts are clearly the favorites. The rest of the division pecking order is very much up for debate.
There is reason for some optimism with this team, and it starts with the change in defense to a 3-4 hybrid. The Titans have done a lot of work in the offseason to add pieces to this defense to make sure the transition is successful.
Here are some bold, and slightly less bold, predictions for the Titans in 2014.
Bold Prediction: Kendall Wright Will Make the Pro Bowl
You might be tested for drugs if you are walking around the streets proclaiming any Titans offensive player as a Pro Bowl player in 2014, unless you're walking around in Nashville.
Kendall Wright finished with over 1,000 yards last season despite having no stability at quarterback. Imagine what he could accomplish if Ken Whisenhunt can establish some consistency with the Titans' current quarterback situation.
This is a very bold statement to make, but it isn't crazy to think. Wright finished ninth in the AFC in receiving yardage in 2013, and he will move up on that list this season.
Joel Beall of Fox Sports sees Wright as a top-15 receiver if Jake Locker can stay healthy throughout the 2014 season. That's a fair assessment, and obviously a big question mark to this prediction.
What affects this prediction more than anything is what the other top AFC receivers will do in 2014. It's hard to overlook the likes of A.J. Green, Andre Johnson and Demaryius Thomas as front-runner for a Pro Bowl spot.
Both Green and Thomas have stable quarterback situations, but Johnson might end up dealing with a big rebuilding year at quarterback with the Houston Texans.
After those three, it's up for grabs between several different guys. I could see Wright bursting onto the Pro Bowl scene as long as he improves his touchdown total in an offense that will be much more aggressive than it was under Mike Munchak.
Less Bold Prediction: Jake Locker Will Not Start All 16 Games
This prediction is hardly going out on a limb, and there's solid reasoning behind that. Jake Locker hasn't proven in his three NFL seasons that he can be the durable quarterback required of a franchise player.
The Titans have had a different passing leader in every season since 2007, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. That is an ugly statistic that directly relates to the Titans' current playoff drought.
If the Titans are going to change that trend anytime soon, then Locker has to stay healthy. He has the tools to be a serviceable quarterback who can manage games, similar to how Russell Wilson plays the position, although maybe not as effective.
Unfortunately, I don't see Locker making it through 16 games. Locker's play could end up removing him from the starting role before an injury occurs. The Titans declined to pick up Locker's option for 2015, so they're not completely married to him for the long-term future.
If Locker slips up during the first half of the season, then Ken Whisenhunt could decide to throw in the towel for the 2014 season and get Zach Mettenberger some valuable experience for 2015.
Bottom line is that Locker has given us no reason to think he will become reliable for an entire NFL season. He's a great competitor, but probably a career backup quarterback after a season or two.
Bold Prediction: Bishop Sankey Will Rush for 1,000 Yards
Rushing for 1,000 yards isn't the milestone it once was. It's still a great accomplishment, but it happens much more often in an offensive-minded league.
The NFL had 13 players reach 1,000 yards last season, and another 16 players reached 1,000 yards in 2012.
There is no reason to think Bishop Sankey can't do the same thing. If he does rush for 1,000 yards, it won't be over that by a huge amount.
However, Sankey is going to have his fingerprints all over the Titans' running game. He's expected to be the leading ball-carrier in the Titans' backfield, per Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com.
Shonn Greene's lingering knee problems help Sankey's chances of being a guy who gets fed the ball on a consistent basis as a rookie. He'll have plenty of opportunities to pile on the yardage.
There is no other guy in the Titans' backfield who offers what Sankey offers, which is a complete back that can carry the load for an entire game. That trait will help him reach 1,000 yards and make Chris Johnson's 1,000 yards as a rookie a distant memory.
Less Bold Prediciton: Zach Mettenberger Will Not Be the Primary Backup
There is no denying Zach Mettenberger has a cannon for an arm. Everything else is up for debate.
The truth is that Mettenberger needs to be a project quarterback to start out his time with the Titans. He's not ready to be a primary backup option to a quarterback who is very likely to go down with an injury at some point in the regular season.
Charlie Whitehurst may not be the popular choice to be the backup quarterback, but he makes the most logical sense. This isn't because he will be able to win games and save the Titans' season. It's due to the fact that Whitehurst will be able to manage the season, much like Ryan Fitzpatrick did last year.
If Jake Locker goes down with an injury that causes him to miss any extended amount of time, then there is no way the Titans make the playoffs. At that point, they will just have to decide to focus on 2015.
Focusing on 2015 will mean continuing to prep Mettenberger for a run at the starting job when the Titans come into next offseason fresh.
There will be no reason to throw Mettenberger into the fire for a lost cause and another season of finishing 7-9.
Bold Prediction: Titans Will Have a Top-10 Offense
This prediction isn't as big of a stretch as it may seem, but it is pretty bold considering the quarterback situation.
Jake Locker has a lot working in his favor heading into the 2014 season. He has a great offensive line, a balanced rushing attack, talented receivers and an offensive-minded head coach.
The Titans have to make a dramatic improvement in total offense from 2013 if they're going to make this prediction come true. They finished 22nd in total offense last season, and that is actually surprising considering all of the instability.
I expect Justin Hunter to build off of his rookie season and to see Kendall Wright put up another 1,000-yard season.
Bishop Sankey is going to put up top offensive numbers among rookies. His versatility will give the Titans more of a threat in the passing game than Chris Johnson gave out of the backfield.
There are no excuses for Locker to not be successful as long as he can obviously stay healthy. This offense is not getting as much credit as it deserves.
The departures of Kenny Britt and Johnson will actually help this offense flow more freely. They have a completely new look and plenty of weapons to put up plenty of points to be competitive on a week-to-week basis.
Less Bold Prediction: Titans Will Just Miss the Playoffs, Again
Fans are going to have to show a little more patience with Ken Whisenhunt's first year in charge. Even a top-10 offense won't necessarily mean the Titans will make the playoffs and all of their problems will be solved.
The first quarter of the schedule is a back-breaker to the Titans' playoff chances. They could easily end up starting 1-3 and already have an uphill battle after four games.
The AFC is very competitive, and the biggest thing the Titans have going for them is the weakness of the AFC South.
The Indianapolis Colts will most likely cruise to a division crown, but the Titans will have a great chance at sweeping either the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Houston Texans.
With that said, the other AFC divisions are very competitive. The AFC West and the AFC North both have teams that are worthy playoff contenders.
The Titans will have to play everyone in the AFC North, so those games will be critical to a playoff berth.
There will be modest improvement with this team, but it is so incredibly difficult to make the playoffs in the NFL. The AFC North will get one of the wild cards, and the AFC West will probably get the other wild card. Unfortunately, my prediction of 9-7 just won't be good enough to end the playoff drought that extends back to 2008.
A few swing games could sneak the Titans into the playoffs, but they haven't proven in recent memory that they can win those types of games.
Bold Prediction: Antonio Andrews Will Make the 53-Man Roster
Undrafted free agents making a 53-man roster just doesn't happen very often, making this a bold prediction.
The Titans are also loaded with competition in the backfield, but Antonio Andrews deserves a hard look from the coaching staff.
Andrews is an all-purpose yardage machine, and it helped him lead the nation in that category for 2012 and 2013. It was surprising that he wasn't even drafted.
The competition for Andrews will primarily be with the likes of Jackie Battle and even veteran Shonn Greene.
Greene is battling knee injuries and is a big question mark to keep his roster spot, per Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com.
This helps Andrews' cause at making the team, but so does the release of fullback Quinn Johnson. It opens the door for Battle to possibly shift into a fullback role and leaves the door open for Andrews to fit in as a third option at running back.
Andrews will have to really impress coaches in preseason, and he will get plenty of opportunities to do that. I see him playing extremely well and the Titans deciding to save money by cutting Greene.
Even if Greene makes the team, there could still be room for Andrews on the roster. He could end up being a valuable piece to this backfield in the future.
Less Bold Prediction: Titans Finish 9-7
There isn't a lot of faith in the Titans among many predictions you will see out there. In fact, Nate Davis of USA Today has the Titans finishing 6-10, which would be one loss worse than last season.
It will definitely be a challenging start to the season, as the Titans have three of their first four on the road, and three of those teams are 2013 playoff teams.
If the Titans survive the first four games by splitting them, then 9-7 is certainly manageable. It's hard to have much confidence in this team because there are so many question marks and new faces.
The Titans likely won't make the playoffs, but they will show slight improvement from 2013. This improvement should give Titans fans reason to be excited about where this team is heading in two or three seasons. Ken Whisenhunt just needs time to make his impact.