So I was 50 percent correct on two teams that I thought would have breakout seasons in 2016: right on the Oakland Raiders and sadly wrong on the Jacksonville Jaguars. I haven't yet decided on a second team for 2017, but I'm pretty big on the Tennessee Titans' bandwagon. I'm not saying they are going to win a playoff game, much less the Super Bowl, but the Titans have a reasonable shot of getting to the postseason for the first time since 2008. I see no reason why they can't win the weak AFC South as it may take only nine victories again.
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Needless to say, all this depends on quarterback Marcus Mariota staying healthy. Tennessee might have made the playoffs last year if Mariota hadn't broken his leg in a 38-17 loss in Jacksonville in Week 16. He left late in the third quarter, but had Mariota led a comeback win in the fourth it would have set up a winner-take-all home game vs. Houston in Week 17 for the division. As it was, the Titans would beat the Texans in that game (they had nothing to play for) to finish 9-7. Nice step forward for a franchise that had been 5-27 combined the previous two seasons.
Incidentally, BookMaker has an interesting prop out on Mariota this season; he should be fine for training camp and took part in portions of OTAs, but no contact. Do you realize that the former Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon has yet to throw a red-zone interception in his two seasons? In his career in the red zone, Mariota is 60-for-94 for with 33 touchdowns and zero picks.
The active QB with the most red-zone passing touchdowns without an interception to start a career is 37 by Cincinnati's Andy Dalton. That Mariota does throw one this year is -140 and no +100. You would have to think he would, even if it's his receiver's fault or a pass is tipped at the line. Mariota has given it away a few times in the red zone on fumbles. I know the Bucs are thrilled with Jameis Winston, who went No. 1 overall in 2015. If you give me a redraft after two seasons, I'm taking Mariota at the top spot. I do wish Tennessee had signed free-agent receiver Jeremy Maclin to help Mariota, but Maclin ended up in Baltimore this week. Maybe the Titans go get Eric Decker.
The Titans were 4-4 on the road last season, 3-5 against the spread and 5-3 "over/under." Tennessee travels to three playoff teams in 2017: Houston, Miami and Pittsburgh. The Titans have three sets of back-to-back road games and yet their home schedule is considerably tougher. I project another 4-4 mark away from home. Odds listed for the home team .
Sept. 17 at Jaguars (+1): The Titans' season could be defined in Week 1 at home vs. Oakland. Pull that minor upset and then win here, and things are looking terrific. However, lose at home to the Raiders and then fall in Jacksonville, and the team could be looking at a 0-5 start. The Titans and Jags pretty much always split with the home team winning. Titans lost that Week 16 Mariota broken leg game 38-17 in Jacksonville last year. Key trend: Titans 4-5-1 ATS in past 10 as road favorite in series.
Oct. 1 at Texans (-3): Titans off a home game vs. Seattle in Week 3. They lead the Texans 16-14 all-time but lost 27-20 in Week 4 at Houston a season ago. Mariota had one of the worst games of his career, completing just 13 of 29 for 202 yards and a pick. DeMarco Murray rushed 25 times for 95 yards and two scores. Key trend: Titans are 0-6 SU & 1-5 ATS in past six as road dog in series.
Oct. 8 at Dolphins (-3): I would definitely prefer Mariota to the Fins' Ryan Tannehill. In Week 5 last year, the Titans won 30-17 in South Florida. Mariota was much better than Tannehill that day, throwing for three scores and rushing for 60 yards and a TD. Murray added 121 yards. Key trend: Titans 5-5 ATS in past 10 at AFC East teams.
Oct. 22 at Browns (+5): Short week for Tennessee after hosting Indy on Monday in Week 6. This is also ahead of the Titans' bye week. To think, the Titans and Browns were considered equally sad-sack organizations just two years ago. It can turn fast with the right quarterback. Tennessee beat visiting Cleveland 28-26 in Week 6 last season. Mariota threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns. At the time, it was the Titans' first home win over a team other than Jacksonville since the 2013 season. Key trend:Titans 4-6 ATS in past 10 before a bye (any location).
Nov. 16 at Steelers (-6.5): Thursday night game, with Tennessee home to Cincinnati the previous Sunday. Probably the first and last chance the Titans have of playing in wintry weather, although I suppose Nashville can get hit with a winter storm once in a while. Tennessee lost the last meeting with Pittsburgh 27-24 in November 2014. Key trend: Titans 2-8 ATS in past 10 as road dog of at least 6.5 points vs. any team.
Nov. 26 at Colts (-3): Extra rest off the Thursday game for the Titans. I love Andrew Luck, but he has regressed a bit and can't stay healthy. Would you take Mariota over him right now? Tennessee is just 7-24 all-time in this series and lost in Indy last year, 24-17 in Week 11. It was 21-0 early in the second quarter. The Titans' comeback chances ended when Murray was stopped for no gain at the Colts' 19-yard line with 2:42 to go. Key trend: Titans 2-8 ATS in past 10 as road dog of at least 3 points in series.
Dec. 10 at Cardinals (-3): Titans off a big home game vs. Houston in Week 13. It's the last indoor game of the regular season for Tennessee. Arizona won the most recent meeting 37-34 in Nashville in December 2013. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the Titans' QB then. Enough said. Key trend: Titans 6-2-2 ATS in past 10 at NFC West teams.
Dec. 17 at 49ers (+3): Might Coach Mike Mularkey keep his team somewhere out west following the trip to Arizona and then ahead of San Francisco? I'd imagine he would. Perhaps no team in the NFL has an easier closing stretch than the Titans: this one, home to Rams and home to Jaguars. The Titans-49ers series is knotted at 2. Key trend: Titans 2-7-1 ATS in past 10 as a road favorite of at least 3 points (0-2 ATS last year).
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