Tennessee Titans: Could they regress in 2017?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 08: Marcus Mariota
NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 08: Marcus Mariota /

Many are expecting the Tennessee Titans to have a breakout 2017 season, but could the hype be all for naught?

The Tennessee Titans have been one of the darlings of the NFL this offseason. And there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the team. After all, it’s got a young quarterback who seems to be improving and made a number of key acquisitions in the offseason. All of this from a team that jumped from three wins in 2015 to nine in 2016.

Again, there’s plenty to like. The Titans look like at least a 10-win team. But could the Titans take a step back in 2017 after improving by six wins? Absolutely.

The biggest thing working against the Titans this year just might be their schedule. Last season, the Titans played eight games against teams that finished the year with a winning record. They went a respectable 4-4 in those games. But three of those four wins came at home.

On paper, the schedule looks like it could be easier this season. Of Tennessee’s 16 games, just six are against teams that were above .500 last season. But as we saw last year with the Titans — who improved from 3-13 to 9-7 — what happened last year means nothing in 2017.

Games against Oakland, Seattle, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Houston at home will not be easy. And the Titans have road games at Houston, Miami, Pittsburgh and Arizona.

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Given the team’s struggles within the division — where Tennessee went just 2-4 last season — the Titans are going to have to win at least four of those five home games and hope for a split in the  road games if they want to have a legitimate shot of improving on last year’s win total.

If they go, say 5-4 in those “tough” games, it could make it difficult to get to nine wins again this season. Tennessee has beaten Indianapolis just once since 2008 and just twice against Houston in their past 10 meetings. The Titans have done better against Jacksonville, but expecting them to suddenly go 5-1 in the division might be a stretch.

Injuries also could play a factor. According to Football Outsiders, the Titans were the second-most healthy team in the NFL last season. That came after they were 18th in games lost to injury in 2015. Depth is an issue for every NFL team in the salary cap era. There just isn’t enough money to go around to keep quality depth at every position.

Some teams just seem to have more injuries than others because of age, system or having players who are more susceptible than others. But, in general, you don’t see the same teams at the top of the least-injured board over and over. It’s cyclical.

The third factor that could cause a slip in the win total by the Titans would be quarterback Marcus Mariota. While practically everyone thinks Mariota is a budding star, a lot of people were saying the same things about Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles last season.

Bortles threw for 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2015, his second season. Last year, he was a disaster, as his yardage total dipped by 500 yards and his touchdowns by 12. As a result, a Jacksonville team that was the darling of the 2016 offseason was stuck in place.

Could Mariota see a similar slide in 2017?

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His weapons are better than they were in 2016. But Bortles had plenty of weapons in Jacksonville and it didn’t matter. And Mariota wouldn’t be the first quarterback to suffer a major injury to a leg — he fractured his in Tennessee’s 15th game last season — and be skittish. Check out Joe Flacco’s 2016 numbers after coming back from a major knee injury, for example.

All of that said, look for the Titans to win 10 games this season. But if they don’t, the aforementioned issues could be the reason why.