Tennessee Titans 2011: 6 Reasons for Fan Optimism for Upcoming Season
With a new CBA finally agreed to and the lockout practically over, the time to look forward to the 2011 season is upon us. Everyone suspects that this season is gonna be a long one for the Titans. With a new head coach, a rookie quarterback, and a disappointing 2010 season, there are a lot of reasons for concern.
However, every dark cloud has a sliver lining. Here are some silver linings for the Titans in 2011.
1. The New Head Coach Isn't so New
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Yes, Jeff Fisher's 16 year tenure with the Titans is over, and any team under a new head coach can expect to have some bumps in the road. However, Mike Munchak isn't exactly new; he's been with the organization since he was drafted nearly 30 years ago, and has been a coach with the Titans as long as Jeff Fisher has.
Munchak taking over could be what reinvigorates the franchise, like Garrett's step up to head coach did for the Cowboys in 2010. Furthermore, he's a coach the players are already familiar with, so the growing pains that typically come along with coaching changes ought to be minimal.
It remains to be seen whether a new system will be installed by the rest of the (entirely) new staff, and that could happen. However, Munchak worked under Fisher his entire career as a coach, so it makes sense to think that the changes he makes will be slight, or at least they'll be slight for the first year.
2. The 2010 Season Started Strong
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Let's recap the beginning of the 2010 season:
Week 1-Titans host Raiders: The Raiders put points up first, but the Titans outscored them in every quarter but the fourth, and the game wasn't even close. The game ended with the Titans winning 38-13. If you remember, the Raiders went on to sweep the AFC West and finished 8-8.
Week 2-Titans host Steelers: The Titans legitimately lost to a better team. The Steelers went on to the Super Bowl, so if you're losing to a better team, it may as well be them. This is also the game where the quarterback controversy began.
Week 3-Titans at Giants: In their first away game, the Titans demolished the Giants. Tied at the half 10-10, the Titans scored 19 unanswered points in the second half to win 29-10. The Giants finished the season 10-6, with two losses to the Eagles and one to the Super Bowl Champion Packers.
Week 4-Titans host Broncos: An embarrassing loss. The Titans led in the fourth quarter, but the Broncos managed to come back for the win.
Week 5-Titans at Cowboys: Although this game was close in score (34-27), the Titans led the entire game, and were never threatened.
Week 6-Titans at Jaguars: Titans win 30-3. Nuff said. The Jags finished 8-8.
Week 7-Titans host Eagles: You remember the Eagles of last year? The team that went 10-6, won their division, and lost to the Packers by only five points in the playoffs? The Titans beat them 37-19.
Normally, that's not a bad start. In fact, it was a very good start. The Titans were 5-2, first in the division, and looking to run into the playoffs. Of course, after this point, everything fell apart. But before it all fell apart, the Titans clearly had the makings of a winning team, and most of those pieces are still there. The Titans could make a playoff run if...
3. The Division Is Weak
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If I were a betting man, I wouldn't put money on the Titans winning the division next year, but it could happen. Looking at the other three teams in the division, the Titans aren't the only ones facing a rough season.
The Colts have run the division for the last 10 years, but their dominance is about to come to an end. Rumors have been swirling about Peyton Manning's offseason neck surgeries. When he starts in 2011, he may not be 100 percent healthy, and may not last the whole season. Add to that his declining stats over the past few years and you see that a dynasty is ready to fall. Manning is the Colts offense; without him, they'd be a mediocre team at best, and they just might be without him for part of 2011.
The Texans are at the head of the hype train right now, and there's reason to believe that they might win the division next year. However, they've been at the head of the hype train for several years now, and in 2010, despite having league leading rusher Arian Foster, standout wide receiver Andre Johnson, and underrated (but great) quarterback Matt Schaub, they still went 6-10 and haven't made the playoffs in team history. The Texans have been perennial bottom dwellers, and though this might (finally) be their year, there are also reasons to believe they'll still play second fiddle to the Titans. Look for bumps in the road as they switch to a 3-4 defense as well.
The Jaguars are in the same boat as the Titans; in fact, their boat might be worse. They have a lame duck quarterback, a coach in the hot seat, and an apathetic fanbase. Their standout rusher, Maurice Jones-Drew, had some injury problems last year, and may be in for some trouble. The season opener sees these two squaring off, and if the Titans get the best of the Jags in round one, expect a knockout in round two as well.
While the Titans have some problems, they're far from the only team with questions in this division. When you have a situation like that, anyone could win the division and get to the playoffs if...
4. The Rest of the Schedule Is Weak
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Outside of the AFC South, the Titans face five teams that had losing seasons in 2010: the Broncos in week 3, the Browns in week 4, the Bengals in week 9, the Panthers in week 10, and the Bills in week 13. Of those teams, three have new head coaches (the other two may not last the season), two have rookie quarterback (and the Broncos don't seem to know who theirs is), and two are switching defensive schemes.
The rest of the out-of-conference schedule looks like this: Ravens at home, Steelers away, Falcons away, Buccaneers at home, Saints at home. Three of five tough games at home isn't bad, and that makes at least one upset pretty likely.
With the weak out of conference schedule, the Titans could win up to five or six games out of the AFC South, which, if they win their division, should be enough to get them to the playoffs. If nothing else, they'll be a few more wins than are projected.
5. The Andrew Luck Sweepstakes
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Before you get started, no, I do not think the Titans will draft Andrew Luck next year. Still, the Luck hype could help the Titans in two ways:
Way No. 1: If the Titans are so bad that they get the first overall pick next year, they can trade Luck to the highest bidder. Now, preseason favorites rarely end up as postseason favorites (like Jake Locker), but Andrew Luck looks more like the exception than the rule. First of all, he is more highly touted than Locker ever was last year. Second, Luck will likely have a better senior year than Locker did; he has more returning players, a standout left tackle, and his playing style makes him less apt to injury. These things make him far less likely to fall. Third, Locker proved this year that a consensus No. 1 guy can only fall so far. Even with a disappointing regular season, accuracy issues, and a bad showing at the Senior Bowl, he only fell to the eighth overall spot in the draft. Even if Luck disappoints, he won't fall that far.
All these things in consideration, Luck is likely to be the No. 1 guy next year. If the Titans have him, they can name their trade price and pick up some missing pieces in the draft to strengthen the team for the future.
Way No. 2: The so called "Suck for Luck" campaign. The Titans are playing a few teams (the Bills and the Bengals) who might want Luck badly enough that, if their season has already tanked, they'll let it sink all the way to the bottom. If this happens, it'll just be a couple of more games in the win column for the Titans.
For the record, I think the "Suck for Luck" campaign is a terrible idea, but that doesn't mean there isn't at least one coach out there who disagrees.
6. "On Any Given Sunday..."
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It's a cliché, but it holds true. On any given Sunday, anything can happen.
No one expected the Buccaneers to finish 10-6 last year, especially not in the same division as the Saints and Falcons. But it happened. Even fewer people thought that the Browns would beat both the Saints and the Patriots last year; but that happened too. Football is tough to predict, but one thing you can always count on is that predictions will fail.
Every year there are surprises, and this year there's no reason to think that the Titans couldn't be one of them. They may not win the division and they may not get to the playoffs, but look for the Titans to exceed expectations next year.
So chin up, Titans fans. There may be rough waters ahead, but there's still a lot to look forward to.