Few teams were as much of a pleasant surprise as the Tennessee Titans last season, and the franchise is running it back in 2020 albeit at a more expensive rate.
The team entered 2019 with Ryan Tannehill serving as Marcus Mariota's backup and Derrick Henry entering a contract season after three underwhelming seasons. They exited as runners-up in the AFC and one of the most explosive offenses of the second half. Now the question is whether or not it was a mirage.
Tannehill, once a castoff in moribund Miami, fulfilled his first-round pick promise. He completed a career-high 70.3 percent of his passes, which helped him lead all quarterbacks with 9.6 yards per attempt and a 117.5 quarterback rating, both about 25 percent better than his previous bests. Henry looked like his Heisman-winning self once again and led the NFL in carries (303), rushing yards (1,540), and rushing touchdowns (16).
Of course, retaining that duo cost the Titans a pretty penny. Tannehill landed a four-year, $118 million extension that includes $62 million fully guaranteed and $91 million in total guarantees. Only nine QBs have a higher annual salary. After getting a franchise tag, Henry worked out a four-year, $50 million deal with $25.5 million guaranteed, making him the fifth-highest-paid back in the league.
Those deals made it hard for the Titans to bring back Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, whom they traded to the Broncos for a late-round pick, and Logan Ryan, who signed with the Giants in free agency. But the defense should still be in solid shape after finishing 12th in points allowed per game and 10th in turnovers forced.
Expectations are high in Nashville for the first time in years, and the AFC South is once again in play. Athlon Sports asked several editors to share their predictions for just how Tennessee's season will play out and what the team's record will be when all is said and done.
Tennessee Titans Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Titans were on the cusp of a trip to the Super Bowl last season, and coach Mike Vrabel’s squad has to be among the favorites to win the AFC once again. It’s no secret running back Derrick Henry powers the offense, but Tennessee’s Super Bowl hopes also require another flawless season from quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Can he replicate last year’s performance? We’ll see. Tennessee held teams to 20.7 points a game last season and should be set on this side of the ball once again. The regular season finale (Jan. 3) versus Houston could loom large in the AFC South pecking order.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)
After a surprising run to the AFC Championship Game, Tennessee doubled down on the formula that got them there by signing Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry to lucrative contract extensions. So if anything, the Titans have continuity going for them entering this season and this also is a team that knows exactly who they are in terms of philosophy and approach. Tennessee can't just rely on Tannehill and Henry to get back to the playoffs and the good news is there should be enough supporting talent around them to help carry the load. The AFC South figures to be a three-team race with Indianapolis and Houston joining the fray, but don't be surprised if the Titans end up on top by season's end.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
I cannot say that I endorse paying any running back and this quarterback $42 million per season, but I'm sure it's hard to let go of an offensive core that brought you to the AFC Championship Game. The good news is that even if Ryan Tannehill regresses (as expected), the improvement of young A.J. Brown should somewhat make up for that. What concerns me even more about the offense is the loss of Jack Conklin at tackle. Isaiah Wilson looks like a keeper long-term, but is he going to play at Conklin's level this season? There are some concerns on defense, as well, where turnovers gave them an above-average scoring defense despite coughing up 359.5 yards per game. All that being said, this is a very competitive team that will have every chance to win the division if they can win late-season games at Indianapolis and Houston.