Friday, August 23, 2013

Against the Grain - Why the 2013 Tennessee Titans Will Make the Playoffs

Tennessee Titans 2013 Game-by-Game Breakdown
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1) Improved, revamped roster - Like the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccanners and Cleveland Browns, the Titans carefully executed strategic roster moves that could easily translate into 2-3 extra wins in 2013. Now, I expect the Chiefs to improve by 6 games next season, and finish as the most improved team in the NFL. I actually have the Titans losing to the vastly improved Chiefs when they roll through Music City in early October (more on how the Titan's schedule later on...)

As far as the players go, the arrivals of Levitre, Warmack and Hill will help elevate the Titans' defensive performance in 2013, following a historically astrocious defensive output last season. I believe as chemistry increases throughout the season, the cynergy will inspire better play from veterans such as Casey, Martin, Morgan, McCourty, McCarthy, Brown, Roos and Stewart. Speaking of McCarthy, I'm interested to see how he fares after only playing in 7 games last season. I'm also curious how Ayers and Goodwin will perform in the time they're given to shine.

Offensively, I'm diggin' the new offense weapons, featuring a much more balanced rushing attack, with Shonn Greene complimenting Chris Johnson, and some added weapons for Locker to throw to, such as Justin Hunter and Delanie Walker. Despite the fact there's much to be seen, the one word that comes to mind when previewing the Titans' offensive firepower is balance. And balance, though underrated at times, is a huge ingredient if the Titans hope to defy the odds. As far as the quarterback goes, I don't have a problem betting on Locker to improve on his 2012 campaign; the question continues to be: just how much?

I also wonder if the injury bug will bite as hard this year as last year? And will the uptick in expectation, especially with Munchiak and Locker on the hot seat, motivate the team to be less passive?

2) Unusually high amount of medicore competition - Many teams will be making the jump from poor team to average team in 2013, while some will remain mired in mediocrity from the previous year. I have the Dolphins, Browns, Chiefs, Colts and Steelers finishing either 7-9 or 8-8. The Bills, Jets, Jaguars, Chargers and Raiders will be bad again next year. I'm highly confident that by season's end, the AFC final standings will resemble an amplified bell curve. With respect to strength of scedule, the Titans have a promising chance if one were to base current year outcomes from last year's final standings (more on this in just a moment). If the Titans fail to make the playoffs in 2013, I expect that 6th seed coming out of the AFC North. (See below for my AFC final standing predictions).

3) Scheduling advantages - As mentioned in point #2, the Titans' strength of schedule works to their advantage, with a SOS ranking of 23 out of 30 teams. Need secondary evidence? Take away the Broncos and Texans, and the Titans play teams with a combined win-loss record of 82-108-2 from last year. In other words, if the Titans fail to make the playoffs in 2013, they won't be able to hide behind a difficult schedule. With Pittsburgh and San Diego a shadow of their former selves, I expect the Titans to take advantage and win both games, on route to a 3-3 split through week 6. In past years, the Titans have shot themselves in the foot by playing poorly to start the season (Hello 2006 & 2009). The hardest period for Titans' fans will be the month of October. This will be the month many jump off the Titan bandwagon and wave the white flag on the season; however, I think the primary make-or-break time frame for the Titans will be the month of November, especially November 10-14, when the Titans arrive back at the .500 mark heading into Thanksgiving.

The key will lie in the Titans' resiliency come midseason. Will they bounce back and win games they should or will they let them slip away? Can they surprise the Colts in Indianapolis after establishing some victorious momentum? Can they win a tossup match with the Rams in St. Louis following their bye week? Either way, if the Titans become eliminated from playoff contention, I don't expect this to mathematically occur until December. Knowing the Titans, it will likely come down to the final regular-season game versus the Texans at home. I predict not only for this matchup to be the biggest game for the Titans in five years, but also a Titans upset as the Texans rest the majority of their game-changing players.

Although I expect a sweep from NFC West competition, I’m predicting the Titans to split games with the Texans and Colts and steal both games away from the Jaguars for a 4-2 divisional record. This will be a refreshing  takeaway when the year is all said and done.

Bottom Line: Overall, I think the Titans sneak into the playoffs as a 9-7 wild-card team. While I believe 10-6 is a bit too high, given they play the Texans twice and a superior NFC West division, I don't buy the Titans fielding the league as a 7-9 or 8-8 team. I know many love to pin the Titans' lukewarm nature/capped improvement on Jake Locker. Personally, I'm sick of all the talk surrounding the Titans' season riding on the shoulders of Jake Locker, though it's true in some respects. I just believe the Titans' upgrades will more than counteract the below-average chance of the 2012 Locker making a repeat; however, with that said, I expect notable improvements from Locker as well and the haters owning up to this when the playoffs kick off in January.

2013 Final Standing Predictions:

AFC East: Patriots 11-5, Dolphins 8-8, Bills 6-10, Jets 4-12

AFC North: Bengals 11-5, Ravens 10-6, Steelers 8-8, Browns 7-9

AFC South: Texans 10-6, Titans 9-7, Colts 8-8, Jaguars 2-14

AFC West: Broncos 13-3, Chiefs 8-8, Chargers 6-10, Raiders 3-13

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Parable of a Parody - "Try" (Part 2)

Last week, we talked about how in Pink's song, 'Try', she places the emphasis on “try” (*shocker*). We also talked about how we shouldn't set the ceiling at 'try' concerning our pursuit of imitating Christ; it’s better to see “try” as a progressive means to the “do”.

In addition, we introduced the 3D Principle: Our decisions determine our direction, which ultimately determines our destination.

Tonight we're taking the next step in connecting the “do” to the 'be'. In other words, what's the relationship between who we are and what we do - what are actions are? Are we what we do? Or is what we do a byproduct of who we are...or who we think we are?

You probably have heard the popular phrase: “Be yourself.” I know for me, the expression immediately conjures up a picture of the genie buzzing around Aladdin's ear in attempt to help him realize an important truth. But in a spiritual decapitated society, can you see how subjective this sounds? If you don’t know who you are or where you come from, how can you know to be yourself? (Need a cinematic case study? Watch "Bourne Identity" and you'll find Jason Bourne searching for his identity, while simultaneously defining it).

Granted, there is some merit in the phrase, but it’s still weak due to its conditionality. Why? Because in today’s world, culture proclaims the lie of: “You are what you do.” If you give, you’re a giver. If you love, you’re a lover. If you murder, you’re a murderer. The secular society we live in loves to put the verb before the noun.

However, in God’s eyes lies the ultimate truth. You are not what you do; you do what you are. In other words, "being" always comes before "doing" (Hello, John 1). God made you out of fullness and integrity by His perfect hands. And you can’t separate this from your identity. Is it possible to pave over goodness with sin? Is it possible to forsake a solid foundation by giving in to deadly habits? Absolutely. But you can’t change the fact that God created man out of purity, out of goodness, out of love – with every spiritual fruit and BE-attitude. It’s no surprise a relative world predicated on the relativism hates the Gospel.

The world would love to deceive you into seeing this “being vs. doing” argument as a two-way street. But it would be foolish to voluntarily accept this idea. For before we did anything, we already were. Yet, can we really find this surprising? If we read the intro of John, we see how God was before He did (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”). Now, I don’t want to blow your mind up here, but the bottom line is: Being comes before doing. If God created us in His own likeness, then the same concept applies to us as well.

Need evidence? Let’s take a look in the Bible, where we find numerous references of God knowing exactly who we were going to be before the beginning of time:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart." ~ Jeremiah 1:5

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." ~ Psalm 139:13-16

If God created us, does it not make sense to trust in His perfect roadmap concerning how we should “be”? After all, how we should “be” has already been modeled to us. So it makes no sense why we equate “being” to “doing”. Why? Because “doing” fits within our free will, while “being” transcends it. Furthermore, God’s definition of “being” is living a life connected to His sovereignty (His supremacy, His kingship) - a lifeline connecting our hearts to His.

Illustration: Think of “being” as a heart, and “doing” as hands and feet. Both need each other, but if one had to go, there’s only one option if you want to keep living.

Still, we need to be careful in how we perceive the relationship between “being” and “doing”. You’ve heard of people who think all it takes to get to heaven is “doing” good works. But what does the Bible say about where good works lead us?

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.“ ~ James 2:14-17 (ESV)

What James is saying is: you can’t save yourself with good works alone. In other words, good works isn’t the source of our salvation, but is a byproduct. Who were are is directly joint to God’s grace as ones who are saved first and foremost, and “good workers” is an outflow – a secondary feature of who we are.

Without grace, without prioritized faith, the script of life becomes flipped on its head, setting the stage for people to believe a costly lie: that there is more than one way to heaven. Truth is the only way to heaven is through Christ alone (John 14:6).

“Doing” can’t be equated or placed in front of “being”, otherwise, we risk losing who we are for the sake of legalism or complacency. For instance, a person can be on the road to holiness and still fall short. On the flip side, a non-believer can be on the highway to hell and still be able to do something good every now and then. Point is our actions do not give us our identity, but our identity gives motivation to our actions. In other words, our identity in Christ gives our actions an identity in turn!

The debate may seem like 'chicken vs. egg' to you, but truth is: how we “are” and how we should “be” comes from knowing who we are, which can only come from knowing more of who God is. The more we seek God and seek to understand the “what's” and “why's” of our faith, the more we find ourselves and how we ought to be. And when we start to understand how we ought to be, we find the inspiration to do the right thing, accompanied with a rejuvenated ability to abide by the 3D Principle.

Note: It’s remarkable how everything is ultimately traced back to the essentiality of knowing God and how living for Him is breathing.

Power Up: Where do you find Pink’s song, “Try” in all of this? What are some other problems young people have with knowing who they are? Why do you think it’s so easy to be confused?

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Parable of a Parody - "Try" (Part 1)

We all have passions we burn for. Maybe it’s a goal or a risk we envision taking, such as talking to someone outside our comfort zone or taking a stand for what is right. Maybe it’s praying early in the morning and starting the day on the best possible note.

The thing is, every time we find these flammable points, we run the risk of being burned. Maybe it's failing. Maybe it's losing friends or popularity. Maybe it's losing comfort or sleep.

But so often, those things that run the biggest fire risk also provide the greatest opportunity for return. And sometimes the biggest burns create the most fruitful environment.

Take a forest fire. The fire might be devastating, but the nutrients that come from it make the most fertile soil around.

Truth is: fear is never a good reason not to move forward. Even if you fall, fail, mess up or lose something in the process, it doesn't mean the end is imminent. But if you fail to start, you are done before you ever took a step.

Sometimes, we try and we are wrong. Maybe we want to go back and do something over. Maybe we wish we never made the choice that birthed the mistake. But if we tossed aside every failing, we would never get stronger.
We've heard it said many times: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

But what's more important? The "getting back up again" or how the "getting back up again" happens?
Sometimes, we can pride ourselves with the "fall down 7, get back up 8" paradigm to the point we don’t realize our idea of change may need changing. Truth is when we face the crossroads of life, we need to seek God first and foremost before we try something that has repeatedly failed. And perhaps it’s not so much we’re trying the right thing the wrong way, but we’re trying the right thing at the wrong time and the issue lies in how our hearts relates to what God wants to accomplish in and through us. Regardless, it can be easy to come to God after we've forced our initiative first. But just because we realize we need God, doesn’t mean we pat ourselves on the back and stop there.

Furthermore, it's important to note man's definition of "try" always yields to God's mandate of "do". In other words, whether we are trying to do the right thing or actively engaged in doing the right thing, God’s call to do the ‘right thing’ is always greater. If we think about Star Wars, we can find some spiritual truth in the character of Yoda, who coined the popular cinematic phrase: "Do or do not. There is no try."

"Try" is a word that reflects man's imperfection and weakness. Think of “try” as an escalator designed to take you the next level of “do”. And on the next level are many stores vying for your attention, seeking to manipulate the direction you take. Now, there's no shaming in trying, as it implies effort, but "do" takes it a step further because it implies we're applying the right direction to the effort. Does God not want our 'yes' to be 'yes' and our 'no' be 'no' (Matthew 5:34, James 5:12)? Given this charge is referenced more than once, I think 'yes'. We should aim for perfection and put ourselves in position for God to be strong whether or not we happen to be.

And perhaps this is the reason why "getting back up" is only the beginning. We shouldn't put ourselves in bad situations, experience the fall-out, and think we're being strong or self-sufficient by picking ourselves back up again. Why? Because only God has the ability to pick us back up AND place us where we need to be. Maybe you can stand on your feet, but can you really take credit for anything past that?

The direction we walk in after the "get up" reflects the burn within. Within the heart of everyone is a flame. No matter who we are or what we're doing, we're burning for someone or something.

All our mind's attention, all our hearts affection, every heart-cry, every rhyme, everybody's worshipping something. All our life's devotion has been set in motion; religions dozen for a dime, everybody's worshipping something. ‘Cause that's what we were made to do.” ~ John Waller, Jason Hoard, Scott Johnson, Matt Adkins

It’s not rocket science: we're constantly seeking fulfillment from all kinds of outlets and sources. So let's be honest: does "trying" to anchor our satisfaction in Jesus feel more like doing cartwheels on a balance beam? Does it feel like walking a tight-rope across the Grand Canyon? Or does it feel more like a pleasant beach run on a warm, sunny day?

Do you ever wonder what holy fire is and perhaps why you don't seem to have a lot of it? Is it even right to say we don't have the fire or is it better to say it's burning across many containers, when it's only supposed to burn in one (our relationship with Christ).

One thing is for sure: when we take the easy way out by trying to get by, we're withdrawing a portion of our flame from our walk with the Lord and depositing it into a mindset that perpetuates a "me-first", "cart-before-the-horse" attitude. Ironically, we set ourselves to burn in the wrong way and thus, our concept of "fire" becomes even more skewed.

Power Up: Why do you think "trying to get by" doesn't capture the heart of the Spirit-filled Christian? Why do you think God made us passionate creatures? What are some ways to help us remember to reference God at all times, not just when we really need Him?


Ever wonder about what he's doing
How it all turned to lies
Sometimes I think that it's better
to never ask why

Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone's bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn't mean you're gonna die
You gotta get up and try and try and try
You gotta get up and try and try and try
You gotta get up and try and try and try

Funny how the heart can be deceiving
More than just a couple times
Why do we fall in love so easy
Even when it's not right

Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone's bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn't mean you're gonna die
You gotta get up and try and try and try
You gotta get up and try and try and try
You gotta get up and try and try and try

Ever worried that it might be ruined
And does it make you wanna cry?
When you're out there doing what you're doing
Are you just getting by?
Tell me are you just getting by by by

Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone's bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn't mean you're gonna die
You gotta get up and try try try
You gotta get up and try and try and try (x8)

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