After plenty of articles focusing on rugby recently, one of my colleagues has been begging me to do one about the NFL. I feel I know the sport relatively well, but not enough to come out with many smart comments during the offseason. However with the release of the regular season schedule, I felt that this was something I could finally write about.
I have decided to keep this specific to the team that I follow, the Tennessee Titans. After 4 consecutive losing seasons, the Titans finally showed promise last season, finishing 2nd in the AFC South with a 9-7 record (tied with Divisional Champions the Houston Texans) despite losing star QB Marcus Mariota to injury in Week 16. In a division that tends to underwhelm, the Titans will be hoping that 2017 will see their first trip to the playoffs in almost 10 years.
While writing this, I will be judging it on the whole by teams’ performances from last season. This may not be wholly representative of how teams will perform this year, as they will have evolved throughout the offseason and, with the Draft still to come, will not yet be the finished article until the season starts.
The Titans’ 2017 Regular Season schedule is as follows (team records from last season):
Week 1 vs Raiders (12-4)
Week 2 @ Jaguars (3-13)
Week 3 vs Seahawks (10-5-1)
Week 4 @ Texans (9-7)
Week 5 @ Dolphins (10-6)
Week 6 vs Colts (8-8)
Week 7 @ Browns (1-15)
Week 8 BYE
Week 9 vs Ravens (8-8)
Week 10 vs Bengals (6-9-1)
Week 11 @ Steelers (11-5)
Week 12 @ Colts (8-8)
Week 13 vs Texans (9-7)
Week 14 @ Cardinals (7-8-1)
Week 15 @ 49ers (2-14)
Week 16 vs Rams (4-12)
Week 17 vs Jaguars (3-13)
At first viewing, this actually looks like a relatively kind schedule for the Titans, with only 4 matches against teams who finished with double-digit wins last season. 2 of these teams (the Seahawks and Raiders) are faced in the opening 3 weeks of the season, which may make it difficult to get a positive start to the campaign, but both of these fixtures are at home which will improve the chances of a Titans victory. Miami away is a winnable game – this same fixture at the exact same point in 2016 ended in a 30-17 victory – and a trip to Heinz Field could easily go either way, with the Steelers of recent years dangerous in attack but not always so reliable on defense.
Looking at other teams outside the division that I expect to be pushing for the playoffs, I think the Titans have again been rather fortunate with home games against Baltimore and Cincinnati and a Week 14 trip to Arizona. All 3 of these teams, especially those in the AFC North, play in tough divisions so will be looking to put in 100% for every win they can get. However with all these games in the second half of the season, it is possible that the rigours of the season could be taking its toll on those teams by this point.
Divisional game are so much harder to predict as form goes completely out the window. As I mentioned at the start, the Titans and Texans both finished the season with 9-7 records. What won the division for the Texans was their respective records within the AFC South: the Texans went 5-1 whereas the Titans could only manage a 2-4 record! As it stands, there is no team who look ready to break away and take control of the division, so these matches could easily go either way. The Texans have one of the best defensive front sevens in the NFL and a star receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, but they are missing a star QB at this point, with only Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden on the depth chart. For this reason I think it could be beneficial for the Titans to visit Houston in Week 4 as I feel they will be more vulnerable earlier in the season. For similar reasons I am looking forward to the trip to Jacksonville in Week 2. On paper the Jags are a very strong team but they seem to struggle to put it together on the field regularly. Blake Bortles looks to be a franchise QB but there are definitely questions over his performance, especially after his regression last season, so it will be good to face him in Florida while he is still relatively early in his redevelopment under the new coaching team.
In my opinion, the Titans bye week comes at a great point in the season. As mentioned above, I feel that the opening 5 games are certainly winnable, as will be a home game against the Colts and Week 7’s trip to Cleveland. It is possible that the Titans could enter their bye week with a 7-0 record (unlikely, but I can dream!). The next 6 weeks will also be arguably the hardest stretch of the season for the Titans, so a bye week immediately before this gives the team a chance to rest up before the hard fight.
After this stretch of harder matches, the Titans will finish with a trip to San Francisco and home games against the Rams and Jaguars. While I expect all 3 of these franchises to be better than in 2016, the Jags are the only one I can really imagine pushing for the playoffs. If the Titans are still fighting for a playoff position – or a higher seeding in the playoffs – then this relatively easy end to the regular season could push the Titans over the line.
With Week 1 still over 4 months away, there is still plenty of time for everything to change. There is still plenty of time for teams to bring in veterans through trades or free agency (such as Marshawn Lynch to the Raiders), while we still have the Draft to come later next week. As it stands, I can imagine the Titans getting 10+ wins this season, and think they should be disappointed by anything less than a 9-7 season and a return to the playoffs.
How do you feel the Titans will do this year? What do you think of the schedule for the team you follow and how do you think they will do? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge