After just missing out on the playoffs in 2011 with a 9-7 record, the Tennessee Titans struggled throughout last season, finishing a disappointing 6-10. Both the offense and defense shared the blame, as quarterback Jake Locker went through quite a few growing pains in his first season as the starter and the Titans gave up the most points (29.4 per game) in the entire NFL.
The team was extremely busy on the free agent market, as it sought to revamp its offensive and defensive lines and add quality depth to other positions. In the draft the Titans took Alabama guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick and traded up to get Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter early in the second round.
The additions along the offensive line and the signing of free-agent tight end Delanie Walker should only help Chris Johnson in the running game, which likewise will make Locker's job easier. Former Titans' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams also has returned to help current DC Jerry Gray turn around a Titans' defense that had trouble slowing down teams last season.
Third-year head coach Mike Munchak needs to get his team back into playoff consideration, as Titans owner Bud Adams has made it clear he wants to win and soon. Locker also finds himself on the hot seat, as the 2011 first-round pick needs to show Adams, general manager Ruston Webster, Munchak and the coaching staff, his teammates and the fans that he's the long-term answer at quarterback.
Can Locker and company win enough games to be a playoff contender in 2013? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Tennessee Titans' 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
Willy Daunic (@WillyD1025), co-host of 102.5 The Game's "Sports Night"
The Titans offseason was filled with a multitude of moves designed to give the team the best chance to win right now. Mike Munchak and crew probably don't have the luxury of another bad season. As a result there are a ton of x-factors for this club, and the percentages tell you they are more likely to be 6-10 than 10-6. However, I have a strange feeling it's going to hit. The key is the revamped offensive line — adding free agent G Andy Levitre and first-round pick Chance Warmack. They must be a Top 10 unit with the physical presence that hasn't been there in years. If they can, fellow first-round picks Jake Locker, Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright can take a step forward.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The Titans offense should be much improved with a healthy Jake Locker, rebuilt offensive line and a full year of Dowell Loggains calling the plays. The talent around Locker has improved dramatically through the draft and free agency so the offense could be one of the AFC's better units — if Locker can stay on the field. Defensively, this team needs to iron out the linebacking position and continue to develop a consistent pass rush. The addition of players like Bernard Pollard will help give this team a physical edge it has lacked since Jeff Fisher left town. One or two upsets and this team could push for a winning record, otherwise, it will win the games it is supposed to and lose those it shouldn't win.
Brad Hopkins (@b_hop72), Oilers/Titans LT for 13 years (1993-2005), now co-host of 102.5 The Game's "The First Quarter"
The Titans entered the new millennia this offseason by scratching checks to build depth. [Ryan] Fitzpatrick, [Andy] Levitre, [Shonn] Greene, etc. are insurance that this year goes according to schedule... for them of course. The Titans competing for a divisional title would be "fun" for the fans in 2013, but making it into the playoffs seems to be the focus this year for Mike Munchak and crew. A steal in Week 1 against the Steelers leads to confidence. That confidence carries this team through another tough road trip before getting on a roll in mid-season. If the key guys can stay healthy through November, this team has the talent to finish 9-7 and possibly slip into a wild card spot.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After a busy offseason in the free agent market and five picks in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft, the Titans have positioned themselves to make a run at a wild card spot in 2013. While the active offseason helped to address some of the concerns, Tennessee still has huge question marks on defense, and quarterback Jake Locker has never started for a full season. Locker has plenty of talent in his supporting cast, and the offensive line was upgraded by the signing of former Buffalo guard Andy Levitre, and the team’s first-round pick in Alabama road grader Chance Warmack. It’s not quite a make-or-break year for Locker, but it’s time for the former first-round pick to take the next step in his development. After a 6-10 finish last season, Tennessee should be closer to .500. But the Titans will fall short of a playoff bid, putting coach Mike Munchak’s job in jeopardy.
Terry McCormick (@terrymc13), TitanInsider.com
The Tennessee Titans have the potential to be much improved over last season when they dipped to 6-10. The offensive line is better, which should make Chris Johnson better. Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and a healthy Kenny Britt should give QB Jake Locker some nice targets to throw to. Locker’s progress is key to the offense developing, and he must not only stay healthy but has to become a more reliable passer. Defensively, the Titans added several pieces, though there were no obvious difference-makers on the defensive line. The biggest change there might be in attitude where safety Bernard Pollard will bring some aggressiveness, which will no doubt be encouraged by Gregg Williams who come back from a year suspension to help coordinator Jerry Gray. The Titans should at least be more competitive than in 2012, but there are still a lot of things that have to break right for them to think playoffs. A tough schedule that includes seven games against playoff teams from a year ago won’t help.
Darren McFarland (@dmac_1025), co-host of 102.5 The Game's "Sports Night"
As you can tell from my predictions, the 2013 season will be streaky. Two tough road tests to start the season and then four of the next five at home to build that confidence back up. Which is precisely what they will have to do on the both sides of the ball during the course of the season. Some games will rely on the much more aggressive defensive philosophy that was installed in the off season with the hire of Gregg Williams and some games will be won by the legs of Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene behind the much improved offensive line. The NFL is a Quarterback dominated league and in the end, the Titans will have to figure out what they have in Jake Locker.
I really like what the Titans did in the offseason, using free agency and the draft to address key areas of need and depth to pivotal positions. I do think that Jake Locker will put up better results in his second season as the starting quarterback, as a rebuilt offensive line provides better protection and bigger holes for Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene to run through. I also believe the defense will be better as the young guys now have more experience under their belt and veterans like Bernard Pollard and George Wilson are around to set the example.
Optimism aside, however, what I don't like about the Titans in 2013 is something they have no control over — their schedule. The Titans will face five playoff teams from last season, including Houston and Jacksonville twice, and that doesn't include road games at Pittsburgh and St. Louis, where the franchise's winnnigest head coach, Jeff Fisher, now works. If Locker continues to develop, the offensive line jells and the defense plays more physical, the Titans should stay in the hunt for a potential wild card spot all season. If the pieces don't come together, however, it could signal the end of Mike Munchak's career-long relationship with the only franchise he has ever played or coached for.
The Titans enter a make or break season for coach Mike Munchak and quarterback Jake Locker with their collective sights set on the final AFC Wild Card spot — with which the division-rival Colts staggered into the playoffs against all odds last year. A 10–6 record should get the job done. In order to do that, however, a few things must happen. Tennessee needs to avoid an 0–2 start by splitting a brutal two-game road trip — at Pittsburgh and at Houston — to open the season. The Titans need to go 4–2 in the division, most likely sweeping the Jaguars and then splitting with the Colts and Texans. Tennessee must protect LP Field in winnable non-division games against the Chargers, Jets, Chiefs and Cardinals. Expectations may be low in Nashville, but 10 wins (and a playoff berth) are within reach for the Titans in 2013.
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