The Tennessee Titans enjoyed their strongest season in five years, but still fell narrowly short of the playoffs in the 2016 campaign.
Mike Mularkey’s men were able to surprise teams with their offensive play throughout the term led by the skill of talented sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The 23-year-old had an excellent season for the AFC South side before a leg injury late in the year prevented the club from sneaking into the playoffs.
Mariota should be fit for the start of the new campaign; therefore there is plenty of hope that the Titans can take one step further next term and end their eight-year post-season drought.
Their deficiencies last term lay on the defensive side of the ball, making an improvement there imperative for the club’s hopes of winning the AFC South.
Should that occur and Mariota takes the next step in his development then there’s no reason why they cannot compete at the top of the conference.
We’ll now take a look back at the last campaign to see what went wrong for the Titans and what they will need to do to compete for a place in the playoffs.
The Titans were handed a gift on the opening day of the term, playing the Minnesota Vikings with backup quarterback Shaun Hill in place. However, after taking an early 10-0 lead, they collapsed in the second half as Eric Kendricks picked off Mariota, while Danielle Hunter sacked the 23-year-old and gathered the resulting in the match-winning score.
Mularkey’s men fell behind early against the Detroit Lions on the road, but were able to dig themselves out of hole in the fourth quarter when Mariota found Delanie Walker. The quarterback then led a game-winning drive to find Andre Johnson for a late touchdown, handing them the one-point victory.
Back-to-back poor performances put Tennessee under immense pressure to save their campaign, losing by a seven-point margin to the Oakland Raiders at home – in Mariota’s worst display of the term. The defense was then suspect against the Houston Texans, allowing struggling Brock Osweiler to have a successful game to guide his side to win over their rivals.
Mariota bounced back with a splendid display against the Miami Dolphins, throwing three strikes to Rishard Matthews, Johnson and Walker, guiding the Titans to a comfortable victory. The Tennessee quarterback fired once again in his side’s clash with the Cleveland Browns – in a contest that was not as close as the 28-26 scoreline suggested.
However, another damaging defeat was on the horizon against a divisional foe in the form of the Indianapolis Colts. Mariota attempted to go score-for-score with Andrew Luck, but two touchdowns in the fourth quarter secured the win for Chuck Pagano’s side. A fine offensive performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars – as DeMarco Murray churned up the yards – got them back to .500, giving the club hope for the second half of the term.
A slow start against the San Diego Chargers proved to be fatal in their clash at Qualcomm Stadium. The Titans spotted their opponents a 16-point lead, and although they brought it back to 26-21, Philip Rivers and company were able to pull away to secure the victory.
Mariota put forward his best performance of the season to respond to the setback, outdueling Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The NFC North side had no answer for the 23-year-old passing through the air or Murray on the ground.
Despite their progress against one of the NFL’s top teams – their divisional rivals again bested them, falling to a seven-point defeat to the Colts on the road. Luck proved to be too much for the defense to handle, while Mariota was unable to conjure a late comeback.
Their clash against the struggling Chicago Bears came at the perfect time before the bye. Mularkey’s men did fall behind early on, but rattled off 27 points on the bounce to ease past the NFC North outfit. The Titans’ defense then came to play against the Denver Broncos following a week off, shutting Trevor Siemian and his offense down for three quarters to secure a 13-10 win.
Arguably the club’s best performance of the term came at Arrowhead Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs. Tennessee refused to be denied before Ryan Succop kicked a 53-yard field goal in frigid conditions to win the game with no time left on the clock.
However, that effort was in vain when they collapsed against the Jaguars, while matters were made worse by Mariota’s injury – ending their playoff hopes. The Titans finished the season with a win over the Texans with Matt Cassel at quarterback, ending with a nine-win term.
The Titans have already made strides to improve their defense, with moves for New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan and Jaguars safety Jonathan Cyprien. Both players should provide a level of security in the secondary due to their strong tackling and ability to cover downfield.
Mularkey’s men have been linked with another deal for a Patriot – in the form of linebacker Dont’a Hightower. The 26-year-old would bolster their run defense and add versatility to the defense, although it would be an expensive move for the club to make.
The defensive line has been strengthened with the addition of Denver Broncos defensive tackle Sylvester Williams – another player with playoff experience. Karl Klug was also re-signed giving the club a great deal of depth across the line.
On the other side of the ball, Kendall Wright has left the club to join the Chicago Bears, leaving a lack of depth at the receiver position, which could force Tennessee’s hand in the market.
There are still decent players on the free-agent market on the offense, although with two picks in the first round of the draft, the Titans may be better off targeting playmakers there to surround their quarterback with young talent.
Tennessee are considered outsiders for the AFC Championship with TopBet sportsbook at odds of +2000 . That is not a bad bet to take at all due to the talent possessed by Mariota, pending his full recovery from his leg injury.
Should he able to participate in all of the club’s off-season activities – the 23-year-old will be able to find the form of the 2016 and potentially take his game to the next level. As a result, the Titans could at least win their first division crown since the 2008 season and secure a home playoff game.
Their defense could also take a step forward – and although it’s hard to see any club competing with the New England Patriots in the conference – anything can happen in the world of the NFL in January.
Tennessee Titans To Win AFC Conference