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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