Titans Are A Mixed Bag In Top Heavy AFC South
Last season, the AFC South was split in two -- Tennessee and Jacksonville as the horrible teams, and Indianapolis and Houston as the playoff contenders. Will this trend continue in 2013?
The Jaguars are most likely on the same path of disappointment, but the Titans are a mixed bag.
The Tennessee camp is excited and optimistic about the 2013 NFL season. Of course, every team has high hopes and lofty goals for every season, but should we believe that the Titans have a chance at making the playoffs?
With the Colts and Texans having no clear decline from 2012, a playoff berth for the Titans seems unrealistic. Tennessee would need a slight miracle to make the postseason. The team has added some valuable free agent and rookie talent, and Jake Locker has promise of becoming a better quarterback, but it's not going to be enough in the top heavy AFC South.
The Titans' first six games of 2013 -- Washington Redskins, at Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, at Minnesota Vikings, at Pittsburgh Steelers, and at Texans -- doesn't leave room for error. Those six opponents had a combined record of 63-33 in 2012, and that doesn't count playoff games; all but one (Steelers) made the postseason. Tennessee will be an underdog for six straight weeks.
How do the Titans prevent a 0-6 start to the season?
The answer is going to have to come on both sides of the scrimmage line. Tennessee was ranked 23rd in total offense and dead last in team defense last season. The team gave up 31 touchdowns and scored only 17, while giving up 471 points and scoring only 330. The pendulum needs to swing toward the better, and fast, or the Titans will be staring another lost season in the face.
There hasn't been much buzz in camp, so far, about the quarterback competition between Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who signed on after four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Fitzpatrick has satisfactory career numbers (14,336 passing yards, 92 TD's, and 81 INT's), but he does have some experience with adversity. Locker is the young gun with nothing much to show for except a lousy season of 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Throwing Fitzpatrick into the starting roll could stir things up, but we haven't been hearing of a controversy in Nashville. It's about time we do.
Here is what Scouts Inc. has said about Fitzpatrick:
“Fitzpatrick has been a streaky performer since becoming Buffalo's starter in 2010. He can be one of the more proficient passers in the league, but he also forces the ball into coverage at times. He has adequate size and arm strength, and he possesses excellent vision, which allows him to find second and third options down field. He can improvise and make plays with his legs, but he's at his best operating from the pocket. Fitzpatrick is a crafty veteran who has likely hit his ceiling.”
I don't know if Locker is much better than Fitzpatrick, but we're going to find out real soon.
Tennessee did well by signing RB Shonn Greene, WR Kevin Walter, and TE Delanie Walker to the offense. Those three players aren't at superstar status, but they'll definitely take some attention off Chris Johnson and wide receivers Nate Washington and Kendall Wright. Speaking of Johnson, and I've said this before, but he needs to have a premier rushing presence this season. If you look at the history of his rushing statistics, the Titans were good when he was real good.
Bernard Pollard and George Wilson were excellent veteran signings at the safety position. Pollard is coming off a Super Bowl championship with the Baltimore Ravens, and Wilson, like Fitzpatrick, came over after some dismal years with Buffalo; he had no interceptions last season, but made 73 tackles. Pollard had one interception and 71 tackles in 2012. The Titans hope to get a second career wind from both players.
When all is said and done, the Titans will have an 8-8 record in 2013, missing the playoffs. It's two more wins than last year, and that's a generous prediction. Tennessee could very well lose its first six games of 2013. The team must play with a focused dignity to prevent that from happening. It will be interesting to see how the Titans develop throughout the season.