The Tennessee Titans were a sexy pick last year, only to underwhelm. With a new staff and the unshackling of Marcus Mariota, the Titans might be back on track.
Tennessee barely snuck into the playoffs last year, in a season that many believed would see it compete for a division title and more. Then the Titans had their signature win of the season, erasing an 18-point deficit against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card game.
Unfortunately, for Tennessee fans, the dream was shattered a week later in Foxboro.
Ultimately the Titans are a tough team to get a feel for. They have obvious talent in men such as Kevin Byard, Malcolm Butler, Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin and others. Conversely, Tennessee also has a new coaching staff, a quarterback that must grow, and a defense lacking a pass rush that’s necessary to beat the likes of the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Still, the Titans are worth believing in, due in large part to those aforementioned questions.
For starters, Mike Vrabel is the right man for the job. Vrabel, 42, is entering his first head coaching gig at any level, and doing so at a tender age. Yet Vrabel has been groomed for the opportunity, playing under Bill Cowher, Romeo Crennel and Bill Belichick, while coaching alongside Wade Phillips and Urban Meyer.
Vrabel was also smart enough to hire a quality staff around him. The biggest prize is offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who will be able to put his stamp on the unit. LaFleur came to Tennessee in a lateral move from the Los Angeles Rams, and at 38 years old, most within the NFL feel he will be a head coach within a few years.
The key to that quick rise will be fixing Mariota. The Hawaiian was abysmal in 2017, throwing for 3,232 yards and 15 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. If that doesn’t vastly improve, the Titans will stagnate at best. He has capable weapons around him in Delanie Walker, Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. None are Hall of Famers, but each is more than capable of making plays.
While it would be irresponsible to expect an MVP-type season rom Mariota, there’s nothing wrong with seeking a major jump in production, similar to Jared Goff’s output in 2017. If the Titans can throw for around 3,800 yards and score 24 total touchdowns, Tennessee should both threaten the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans for the AFC South while making a deeper run into January.
After a year that provided frustration followed by one big win and then a blowout defeat, Titans fans should have high expectations for this group. Tennessee has talent across the board and coach not stuck in the 1970s in terms of scheme.
If Mariota can step up, there is no reason to believe Tennessee won’t be a serious factor in the AFC.
Top 10 players ahead of their time
1. Don Hutson, WR, Green Bay Packers
2. Sammy Baugh, QB, Washington Redskins
3. Lawrence Taylor, LB, New York Giants
4. Randall Cunningham, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
5. John Mackey, TE, Baltimore Colts
6. Dan Marino, QB, Miami Dolphins
7. Joe Namath, QB, New York Jets
8. Deacon Jones, DE, Los Angeles Rams
9. Bobby Bell, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
10. Mel Blount, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
"“He sees it as an opportunity for him to grow at the position,” Landry said of Mayfield. “A guy like Tyrod, who’s been to the Super Bowl, who took a Buffalo team that hasn’t been to the playoffs to the playoffs, he can learn a lot from Tyrod. At the same time, I think it’s a competition, but I think it’s true at the same time both guys are definitely qualified for the job.”"
– Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry on Baker Mayfield’s situation
Mayfield is in a tremendous position, and a rare one at that. The No. 1 overall pick usually comes with intense pressure immediately, but the Heisman Trophy winner sidesteps that in Cleveland this summer. Tyrod Taylor is the proclaimed starter, and Mayfield is joining a team that has on win over the past two seasons.
If the Browns decide to roll with Mayfield at some point in 2018 — and they will — the only possible direction is up. The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Steelers are all expected to be vastly superior to Cleveland, meaning even a last-place finish with three or four wins will be seen as a success.
Matt Verderame and Josh Hill bring your new episode of Stacking The Box every Monday. The shows can be heard by downloading the podcast on iTunes, or seen on FanSided’s Facebook Live broadcast every Monday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.
The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions have played 175 regular-season games against each other. Incredibly, their only postseason matchup came in 1932, when the Lions, known as the Portsmouth Spartans, lost 9-0 to the Bears.
Info learned this week
1. 49ers’ Goodwin makes incredible gesture
Need someone to root for? Look no further than Marquise Goodwin of the 49ers. The wide receiver had a breakout campaign last season in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, leading to a $20 million contract. How did he spend that money? Buying a dream house for his mother and disabled sister.
Goodwin, 27, is an inspiration. The veteran went through unspeakable pain back in November, when his baby son died during complications of pregnancy. Despite the tragedy, Goodwin played in San Francisco’s game only hours after losing Morgan.
The world needs more people like Marquise Goodwin.
2. Fournette steps up for LSU student, pays tuition
There’s so much ugliness in and around the NFL these days, so this is a nice respite. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette saw a plea from a hard-working LSU student for help towards her tuition this semester. Instead of pitching in, the former Tigers star paid the entire bill, totaling approximately $10,000.
This is the kind of charity that happens so often with professional athletes, but gets overshadowed by poor decisions from the minority of players. Fournette won’t get much fanfare or publicity for this random act of kindness, but he deserves it. Well done.
3. Pats’ Edelman loses appeal of suspension
The Patriots will officially be without slot receiver Julian Edelman for the first four games of the season, after the veteran lost his appeal. Edelman, 32, is coming off a season in which he missed all 16 games with a torn ACL. Now, the star has even more time on the shelf.
For New England, the temptation is to claim it will be fine due to Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Rob Gronkowski. Here is a reason to caution against that line of thinking. The Patriots have Gronkowski and no other legitimate threat in the passing game with Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola gone. Additionally, the first three opponents this season? The Texans, Jaguars and Matt Patricia’s Detroit Lions. Rough to say the least.
New England will still roll to a division title and double-digit wins, but the loss of Edelman is significant in terms of seeding.
4. Falcons lock up Ridley on rookie deal
One of the last rookies to put pen to paper, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley signed his rookie deal. For Ridley, the four-year pact comes with a fifth-year option, and for the Falcons, the finishing touches have been applied to what could be the most explosive offense in the NFL.
Many believed Atlanta was going to select a lineman on either side of the ball in the first round back in April, but general manager Thomas Dimitroff decided to give Matt Ryan another weapon. With Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Ridley on the outside, with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield, the Falcons are going to strongly contend in the NFC South this fall alongside the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.
5. Cards’ Keim gets cited for DUI
The Arizona Cardinals had an ugly July 4th, with general manager Steve Keim driving under the influence. Both the team and Keim hav released statements on the matter, which is likely the last time we’ll hear from either party barring a penalty from the league.
Keim, like players, can be disciplined by the NFL and likely will be. Look for a fine and suspension, something that will hopefully deter any further missteps from the Cardinals’ GM. Luckily, nobody was injured.
In the Super Bowl era, only two times have the same pair of teams matched up three consecutive years in the conference title game, happening once in each conference.
The first instance was from 1974-76, with the Oakland Raiders and Steelers matching wits. Pittsburgh won the first two occasions, with the Raiders finally getting their taste of elusive lory in ’76, toppling the Steelers before beating the Minnesota Vikings.
The NFC’s turn came from 1992-94, with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers squaring off. Dallas emerged victorious in the first two meetings, and both times won the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills.
San Francisco finally broke through in ’94, and subsequently hammered the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
The AFC West is wide open, despite Kansas City being a reigning two-time champ. The Chiefs are in a reload with Patrick Mahomes taking over, while the Chargers have the talent to make a move but health questions abound. The Raiders are also intriguing, but many believe their offseason went in the wrong direction.
This leaves the Denver Broncos, who might be the toughest team to figure in the division. Case Keenum is a clear upgrade over Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler, but can the rest of the offense do enough? Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are solid weapons, but what question marks remain at running back, tight end and the offensive line.
Defensively, the Broncos are going to be heavily reliant on Bradley Chubb to contribute immediately. Von Miller remains a top-notch pass-rusher and Chris Harris Jr. is arguably the most underrated corner in the game, but again, there are questions elsewhere. Denver needs Bradley Roby to become an elite talent, while youngsters such as Justin Simmons and Adam Gotsis must emerge.
The Broncos have potential, but there are a legion of uncertainties surrounding them.