By, Faux John Madden (Special to OddsUSA.com)
Before the entire world came spinning off its axis to kick off the arrival of 2020, there was a feel-good story for the ages developing from the city of Nashville, home of one of the more vanilla franchises in all of professional sports, the Tennessee Titans.
Up until their January postseason jaunt, the Titans were a mostly forgotten team amongst casual and die-hard football fans alike, so much so that the cinematic classic ‘Remember the Titans’ has been applied more to the franchise as a genuine question to remind us all of their existence than their actual performances on Sunday.
Each season it felt like the Titans were a team that didn’t make enough waves in either direction to really draw any type of reaction from those who weren’t fans of the team. Tennessee was never dreadfully terrible and made into a laughing stock whenever they played, nor were they ever really truly feared or tabbed as a team that you had to make sure you paid attention to.
With this type of fan classification, it’s no wonder that the Titans embarked on the 2019 season coming off three-consecutive 9-7 seasons, all of which carried the same amount of excitement as a season premiere of The Big Bang Theory.
About six games into the 2019 season, it appeared the Titans would be headed on that same track yet again. Once again they had a defense that was good enough to steal the occasional win but not great enough to dominate any opponent on their schedule, and they had an offense that was stale and had difficulty putting up a lot of points.
Tennessee sat at 2-4, failing to produce more than 20 points in four of those six games. They had all the look and feel of a team that would labor into a .500 type season while boring the fan base before settling into the middle of the first round of the draft. This was Titans football at its finest.
But then, something happened the moment Titans’ head coach Mike Vrabel elected to bench Marcus Mariota for former Miami Dolphins’ first-round draft choice Ryan Tannehill in a 16-0 road loss to the Broncos.
Tannehill rejuvenated the team and the offense almost immediately. Even in their shutout loss against the Broncos, the Titans offense looked much better the moment the change was made. And the wins would soon start coming in bunches, as Tennessee would go 7-3 with Tannehill at starter and sneak into the last playoff berth of the postseason.
Thanks to Tannehill’s turnover-free game management and the running from the freakishly large Derrick Henry, the Titans were able to go into Foxboro and Baltimore and collectively end one dynasty and prevent another one from beginning to happen, before falling to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Chiefs in the AFC Championship.
Tennessee would finish the 2019 regular season with a 9-7 record for the fourth-straight season, but for the first time in well over a decade, the Titans actually have hope that their days of being a forgettable franchise that occasionally popped up on your Red Zone channel will be replaced with a team that can contend for a shot at their first Super Bowl title in team history.
Titans 2019 Season Review
Mike Vrabel’s Titans would begin their season with a road game against the hype train that was known as the Cleveland Browns, and the team could not have hoped for a better start to their season as they would embarrass the Browns by the score of 43-13.
The hot start to the season would quickly fade in the next month, however, as the Titans offense would continually struggle to sustain drives and put up points to help support a stingy Vrabel defense that would five of the Titans’ first six opponents under 20 points.
Marcus Mariota would eventually be benched in Week 6 when it was discovered that he could no longer pad his offensive numbers through playing the likes of Washington State and Cal every weekend, and as discussed in the opener, Ryan Tannehill would eventually take over as starting quarterback and the Titans offense would soon take off immediately after.
Tennessee would go on to finish the season on a 7-3 tear, including an impressive 35-32 home win over the Kansas City Chiefs to bring their record back to 5-5 on the season as the Titans entered their bye week. And although Tennessee would lose back-to-back home games against the Texans and Saints, there was a certain feel to the Titans that they could potentially be a very difficult out in the playoffs because of their ability to pound teams into submission with Derrick Henry and their aforementioned stingy defense.
That would prove to be exactly the case when the Titans marched into Gillette Stadium and suffocated the Patriots on a cold Saturday evening in the Boston area. Derrick Henry would rush for 182 yards and one touchdown, while Ryan Tannehill would only throw the ball 15 times for 72 yards in a 20-13 win that essentially put the last nail in the coffin of the Patriots dynasty.
One week later against a Ravens team that hadn’t lost a game since early October, the Titans would duplicate the script, riding Henry to another 195 yards rushing while Tannehill would again throw it sparingly and the Titans’ defense would prevent the Ravens offense from getting any lasting momentum. The Titans would win 28-12 and go into the AFC Championship game, looking like a team that was on the verge of an Eli Manning like run to a Super Bowl.
The magic carpet ride would end at Arrowhead Stadium, however, as the Chiefs aerial attack would prove to be too much for Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry to match, and the Chiefs would enact some revenge for their earlier loss and punch their ticket to Super Bowl LIV with a 35-24 victory over Vrabel’s Titans.
Remembered the Titans During Free Agency
DE Jadeveon Clowney (Seahawks)
LB/DE Vic Beasley Jr. (Falcons)
RT Ty Sambrailo (Falcons)
K Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots)
CB Johnathan Joseph (Texans)
Is Quite Literally the Franchise
RB Derrick Henry (Signed 4-year extension)
Probably Should Send Derrick Henry their 2019 Playoff Bonuses
QB Marcus Mariota (Raiders)
RT Jack Conklin (Browns)
DE Jurrell Casey (Broncos/Trade)
RB Dion Lewis (Giants)
CB Logan Ryan (Giants)
K Ryan Succop (Buccaneers)
CB Tramaine Brock (Jaguars)
Titans 2020 Offensive Preview
The Titans entered the 2020 offseason with several notable free-agents, including Tannehill, Henry, and Pro Bowl right tackle Jack Conklin, and were able to retain Tannehill and Henry on new contract extensions, but did see Conklin leave to Cleveland in free agency.
The loss of Conklin is really the only loss the Titans will have to deal with on the offensive side of the ball, and should the Titans be able to replace him in their lineup or at least find someone that is at least moderately capable of doing the job, Tennessee should pick-up where they left off a season ago.
Tennessee looked towards the 2020 NFL Draft for Conklin’s replacement, as they would draft the enormous Isaiah Wilson (6-6, 351 lbs.) out of Georgia in the first round and they also added Ty Sambrailo in free agent for some veteran depth. If Wilson can step right in and be the same type of imposing run blocker as Conklin, the Titans offense will not miss a beat.
The rest of the Titans’ offensive line remains intact from a year ago, headlined by left tackle Taylor Lewan and guard Rodger Saffold. The team hopes that Lewan can stay on the field all season in 2020, after having suspensions cause him to miss multiple games in 2019.
The lynchpin for this Titans offense once again is that of half-Hulk, half-human being Derrick Henry. To say the Titans rode Henry to the AFC Championship would be a gross understatement, as the workhorse running back rushed for 1,342 yards and 12 touchdowns in the Titans last nine games of the season, including Tennessee’s three playoff games. It was a nine-game stretch the likes that have never been seen in the NFL, at least not any time in recent memory.
If there’s cause for concern with the Titans’ offense heading into 2020, it is the usage rate of Derrick Henry, as the 26-year old running back touched the ball over 400 times last season and historically that has not fared well for future seasons with running backs who had the same workload.
(Chris Johnson, please pick up the red courtesy phone, Chris Johnson)
Because of this, look for the Titans offense to try to adapt a bit more in 2020 and have Ryan Tannehill take some of the pressure off of their star running back. One such candidate to be able to give the Titans a major boost in their anemic passing attack is 2019 2nd round pick A.J. Brown, who came on late in his rookie season with four 100-yard receiving games in the Titans last six games to close out the season. It’s not a coincidence that the Titans offense looked to be at its most dangerous when Brown was making big plays in the passing game.
The young wide receiver was virtually invisible in the playoffs, but a lot of that had to do with their offensive philosophy going into their games against New England and Baltimore, look for A.J. Brown to play a bigger role in their offense this season, especially in the instances when they become overly reliant on Derrick Henry’s production.
The rest of the Titans’ cupboard at wide receiver could be somewhat bare, but if the team can finally get the production out of 2017 1st round pick Corey Davis that they’ve yet to see since they made him the No. 5 overall pick that year, this offense can only get better. Adam Humphries gives Mike Vrabel a watered-down version of Julian Edelman for his offense, and tight end Jonnu Smith will be the team’s #1 option at that position.
Titans 2020 Defensive Preview
The Titans’ defensive line received a major shot in the arm shortly before the opening week of the 2020 NFL Season when the team was able to sign free agent Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year, incentive-laden contract.
After struggling for much of the 2019 season in Seattle due to a sports hernia, Vrabel hopes that a healthy Clowney returning to play in a 3-4 scheme will allow for Clowney to revert to the form he played when he was a member of division-rival Houston. Clowney will be joined at rush end with former Atlanta Falcons 1st round pick Vic Beasley and former 2018 2nd round pick Harold Landry. Titans’ 2018 1st round pick Rashaan Evans will be joined by Jayon Brown to round out the Titans’ linebacking corps.
On the defensive line, the Titans had to say goodbye to Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey, who was traded to Denver so the team could afford to pay Tannehill and Henry, and the team will hope that 2019 1st round pick Jeffery Simmons can slide in and fill the void left behind. Losing Casey will hurt the Titans defense though unquestionably, as he was one of the best defenders against the run for the last several seasons.
Tennessee’s secondary will return mostly everyone from the same effective unit from a season ago, with Adoree Jackson and safety Kevin Byard being the key performers. Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler will start in place of Logan Ryan, who left for New York in free agency, but 2020 2nd round pick Kristian Fulton may ultimately become the starter before the season ends, particularly if Butler continues to struggle as he has since joining the team in 2018. Veteran Kenny Vaccaro returns to start at strong safety, while former longtime Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph comes to the Titans to offer veteran depth on passing downs.
Titans 2020 Outlook & Prediction
The biggest question circling the Titans entering the 2020 NFL Season is that of their new official starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Counting on Derrick Henry to repeat his performance from a season ago is simply not realistic given the sheer amount of touches the imposing running back had in 2019. Tennessee will need Tannehill to provide them with enough of a passing attack to get defenses to stop keying on Henry. A.J. Brown is a tremendous start for the Titans passing game, but they will need Corey Davis to step up in a big way as well, or this is an offense that could run into a lot of problems once teams figure out how to counter their running-game.
Fortunately for Tennessee, while Indianapolis and Houston are capable of contending for the AFC South crown, each team is also quite flawed in key areas. If Tannehill can give the team enough in the passing game, this is a team that can not only win the AFC South but potentially is very dangerous once again in January. But if Tannehill regresses to the form that got him traded to Nashville to begin with, another ho-hum nine-win season could be in the cards. We’ll predict that Tannehill plays well and the Titans finally break their run of 9-7 seasons with a 10-6 division winning 2020 NFL Season.
Titans 2020 Projection: 10-6, 1st place AFC South
Titans 2020 Betting Preview
Unlike a defender trying to tackle Derrick Henry in the open-field, these futures bets have a chance of happening.
- Tennessee Titans OVER 8.5 Wins — (-134) at DraftKings Sportsbook
We love the over 8.5 on the Titans 2020 win total for many reasons. Quite frankly, we believe this is the best team in the division, they are very sound defensively and play a style of football that will have them in nearly all of their games. Not to mention, this is a team that has posted four consecutive 9-7 seasons and does not look like they will deviate too much from that pattern. Eat the juice here and take Tennessee over 8.5-wins.
- A.J. Brown OVER 1025.5 Yards Receiving — (-110) at DraftKings Sportsbook
We are going to avoid the props associated with Derrick Henry because his 2019 usage rate is somewhat of a concern, and we also believe that Mike Vrabel will try to have an offense that has a lot more balance in 2020. Tannehill’s best target in the passing game is unquestionably that of A.J. Brown, and the young wideout flashed superstar potential down the stretch. A full 16-games with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback and being seen as the top target will only benefit the former Ole Miss standout. We think Brown tops this number fairly comfortably in 2020.
- Tennessee Titans to Win AFC South — (+150) at DraftKings Sportsbook
Oddsmakers favor the Indianapolis Colts to win the division at +125, and we just think they have the wrong team favored here. The Texans and Colts have run the show in the division over the last several years but Mike Vrabel’s Titans will put a change to that. Gladly pouncing on the Titans at +150 to win the AFC South.