Few teams were as improved as the Tennessee Titans in 2016. Riding a vastly improved offense, the team posted four more wins than they had in the previous two seasons combined.
The primary reason for the Titans resurgence is two-fold. First, they were able to land their franchise quarterback in 2015 in former Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota who continues to show the flashes of brilliance that made him such a productive player during his college career with the Oregon Ducks.
Secondly, Tennessee had the great fortune of power runner DeMarco Murray fall into their laps for a song following a dismal year in Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles offense. Once with the Titans, Murray reverted to form when he served as the primary back for the Dallas Cowboys. The team also drafted another Heisman winner, former Alabama Crimson Tide workhorse Derrick Henry, as potent a one-two punch as any team in the NFL.
The Titans had the playoffs in their sight until a late season loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in which Mariota suffered a broken leg. The team finished 9-7 but lost out on the AFC South title to the Houston Texans who held the tiebreaker.
Mariota is healthy again and looks to improve on last year’s 26 touchdowns and the Titans have added to his weapons by signing former New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker and drafting stud Corey Davis of Western Michigan. The additions will augment existing targets including Rishard Matthews to boost the passing game.
The running game will be potent again and will look top last year’s number three overall attack. As long as Murray stays healthy and keeps Henry fresh, it will be hard to stop them behind a very good offensive line.
Where the Titans will need to make the next step to be a regular contender will be on defense. The unit finished 20th overall last year and added a number of free agents including safeties Johnathan Cyprien, Brynden Trawick and cornerback Logan Ryan. They also used their second first round pick on cornerback Adoree’ Jackson.
If the new additions can mesh with holdovers Brian Orakpo and a line that is good at shutting down opposing running games that would be a big help.
Mike Mularkey will coach this rapidly improving team.
So, what does it all mean?
There is no reason to believe that the Titans won’t return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
They are clearly the cream of the crop in one of the NFL’s weakest divisions and with Indy’s Andrew Luck still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and in limbo, they have the best quarterback. Barring another injury to Mariota look for the Titans to win the AFC South and be a dangerous draw in the playoffs.