The Tennessee Titans are going to be an interesting team to follow this season. Their offensive and defensive statistics from last season are nearly mirror images of each other and the reason that they went 7-9 is because they played a daunting schedule and lost quarterback Jake Locker for the season in Week 9 after he missed Weeks 5 and 6. The Titans were just -12 in point differential against a schedule that featured the NFC West and AFC West for six of their 16 games.
Consider this: Of the Titans’ nine losses last season, six of them were against playoff teams and one was an overtime loss at Arizona. Sure, they slipped up and lost to the Texans and Jaguars, but they outgained the Jaguars by nearly 150 yards and the Texans loss was in overtime. The Texans were a nine-point favorite in that game, so it was well before anyone could have foreseen the Texans as a 2-14 team.
Mike Munchak was let go and replaced by Ken Whisenhunt, who was an integral part of the season that Phillip Rivers had for the Chargers. Whisenhunt reunited with Ray Horton, who was his defensive coordinator in Arizona for the 2012 season, and who, in his own right, had a successful season with the Browns defense.
As mentioned, the offensive and defensive numbers for the Titans are nearly identical. They ran 1,032 offensive plays for 5,390 yards. They defended 1,027 plays for 5,407 yards. They forced 25 turnovers and committed 25 turnovers. They threw for 6.1 net yards per attempt and allowed 6.2 net yards per attempt. They ran for 4.1 yards per carry and allowed 4.0 yards per carry. They scored 38 offensive touchdowns and allowed 36 touchdowns on defense. Titans quarterbacks were sacked 37 times and the Titans sacked the opposing quarterback 36 times.
The defense made some big strides last season by allowing 90 fewer points. They had the seventh-best third down defense in the league and went from allowing 31 passing touchdowns in 2012 to just 15 this past season. The Indianapolis Colts are still the AFC South favorite, but the Titans could put it all together and give them a serious run in the division.
Oddsmakers aren’t so sure that the Titans will be better. Sportsbook.ag and 5Dimes.eu are both showing a 7 for their win total, with Sportsbook shading the under at -120 and 5Dimes shading the over at -120.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|1||@ Kansas City||+5|
|14||New York Giants||+1|
|15||New York Jets||-1.5|
|16||@ Jacksonville (Thu)||-3|
The Titans get a respite in that they don’t have to face the Seahawks, 49ers, Broncos, and Chargers like they did last season. Instead, the Titans get the AFC North and NFC East for non-divisional opponents, though their second-place finish adds the Chiefs and Jets to the slate. The Titans are an underdog a lot despite what seems to be an easier schedule. They are getting points in 10 of the 15 lined games with a pick ‘em at home against Houston.
The travel schedule is not bad at all, with no trips to the West Coast. There are four trips to the East Coast, with games at Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, and Jacksonville. There’s only one road back-to-back, at Cincinnati and at Indianapolis, which looks like the toughest scheduling spot. With three of the final four games at home and a chance that Indianapolis rests some guys for Week 17, the Titans have a chance to do some damage with this schedule. Unfortunately, they could easily start the season 0-4 with three tough road games and a visit from the Cowboys in Week 2.
Why bet the over?
Prior to his injury, it seemed like the light was flickering less often for Jake Locker. After a 56.4 percent completion percentage and a negative TD/INT ratio in 2012, Locker was north of 60 percent with completions and held a 2/1 TD/INT ratio before his season ended prematurely. The light hasn’t fully come on yet, but it’s been difficult for Locker to develop continuity with his offense and consistency in his play with the injuries.
One of the more intriguing late-round draft picks was Zach Mettenberger. The LSU product who tore his ACL late last season was definitely worth a flier in the sixth round and Whisenhunt was a key piece of the development of Ben Roethlisberger and helped Phillip Rivers to a career year last season. Don’t be surprised if Locker is pushed to the bench without injury and Mettenberger gets his opportunity sometime during the season.
The Titans got an enormous year from Kendal Wright, who caught 94 balls for over 1,000 yards in his sophomore season. Surprisingly, Wright only scored two touchdowns. Delanie Walker was an upgrade at the tight end position and the Titans added flex Dexter McCluster to make some things happen on offense. Chris Johnson ran for over 1,000 yards, but managed just 3.9 yards per carry, so running back became a big need in the draft. The Titans got, arguably, the best one on the board in Bishop Sankey with their second-round pick and he’ll be the starter in Week 1.
The offensive line will be in good hands with Michael Oher at right tackle and first-round pick Taylor Lewan at left tackle. That should lead to better rushing numbers. With 2012 first-round pick Chance Warmack on the interior, this has the makings of a solid group. The Titans got 16.5 sacks from Jurrell Casey and Derrick Morgan on the defensive line last season and those two guys will turn 25 this season and continue to grow with experience.
The Titans rated well in man games lost, but only had seven starters play 16 games. Most of the injuries were week-to-week guys on defense, so the unit had to rely heavily on its depth. That should be a benefit this season with Alterraun Verner in a different uniform.
Why bet the under?
It’s fair to wonder what could be different for the Titans this season. Jake Locker has been in the league for three seasons, a starter for two, and has only appeared in 23 games with 18 starts. Former bell cow running back Chris Johnson’s performance dropped off precipitously and he’s now a member of the New York Jets. Arguably the best player from last season’s team, Alterraun Verner, is now with Tampa Bay.
Verner’s loss leaves a big hole in the secondary that the Titans failed to fill via free agency or the draft. The NFL is a passing league and it was clear what happened to the Titans in 2012 when they allowed 31 passing touchdowns. Even though the NFC West doesn’t appear on the schedule this season, there are some good offenses in the NFC East and the other teams in the division look to have upgraded their passing attacks this offseason.
Ray Horton runs a base 3-4 defense but he likes to change looks frequently, sometimes going with a 4-3 or a 5-2. Looking at the defense, the Titans don’t seem to have a lot of playmakers that can play in this hybrid scheme. It may take a year or two for the Titans to acquire the right personnel.
Free NFL Pick: Under 7 (+100) (5Dimes)
This number would look a lot nicer at 7.5, but the Titans are going through scheme changes without a reliable starting quarterback and without a defensive standout. There’s a reason that the Titans are underdogs in so many games, even though the schedule seems much friendlier than last season’s. The Texans and Jaguars aren’t pushovers and the Titans were just 2-2 against them last season anyway, and those two teams combined for 26 losses.
Locker’s injury prone and there’s no way around it. Mettenberger will be returning from a torn ACL and he was not a highly sought after commodity until Cam Cameron got his hands on him and he became a one-year wonder. Bishop Sankey is a workhorse, but at just 5’9” and 205 lbs, the grind of the NFL season may wear him down earlier than expected as he tries to learn the ropes as a rookie.
There are too many questions and too many unknowns to like the Titans a whole lot this season and a repeat of 7-9 may qualify as a good season.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.