Mike Munchak had been a fixture of the Titans organization his entire career, but he entered last season squarely on the hot seat and a 7-9 record ended his three-year tenure. It was the fifth straight year the team had missed the playoffs. The 2013 season started good enough with an upset victory in Pittsburgh on the way to a 3-1 first quarter of the year. However, then Jake Locker got hurt and the Titans lost three straight and five of six, some with him in there but others with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. Locker wouldn't play again after a Week 10 loss to Jacksonville with Fitzpatrick going the rest of the way. Tennessee attempted to make a late push to save Munchak's job, losing an overtime home game against Arizona and winning in Jacksonville and against Houston to close the year, but the damage was done.
Really, the Titans have been looking for a franchise quarterback since Steve McNair -- sorry, Vince Young wasn't one -- and QB play wasn't great last year. Locker showed a few signs while healthy, completing 60.7 percent of his passes with eight interceptions and four picks for a rating for 86.7. This will be a make-or-break year for the injury-prone former first-round pick as the team has declined to pick up his 2015 option. Running back Chris Johnson had another 1,000-yard season but certainly didn't justify his big salary by averaging only 3.9 yards per carry. One bright spot was third-year receiver Kendall Wright catching 94 passes for 1,079 yards. He's the No. 1 guy going forward there.
Key Offseason Moves
With running backs so undervalued these days, the Titans cut Johnson, who never again approached his epic 2009 season. It would be a shock if Tennessee doesn't add a running back in the draft because right now Shonn Greene is the No. 1 guy. Locker's new backup -- if Tennessee doesn't take a QB -- is Charlie Whitehurst, who was signed from San Diego after Fitzpatrick left for Houston. Anyone who thinks Whitehurst is a capable backup is kidding themselves.
The Titans' big loss was shut-down cornerback Alterraun Verner (57 tackles, five interceptions). The team added likely starters on defense in Pittsburgh end Al Woods (two sacks), and Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard (84 tackles) and end Shaun Phillips (10 sacks). Tennessee signed Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher to start on the right side and grabbed former Chiefs receiver Dexter McCluster (53 catches, 511 yards). He likely will lineup more at running back than receiver and catch balls out of the backfield.
To replace Munchak, the Titans hired Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who took the Tennessee job over Detroit's. Whisenhunt also was a head coach for six years with the Arizona Cardinals, going 45-51 and leading the team to its only Super Bowl appearance. He was given a lot of credit for helping revive Kurt Warner's career with the Cardinals and turning around Philip Rivers' last year in San Diego. Maybe he's just what Locker needs.
2014 Schedule (all times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Monday, Nov. 17, Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, NY Jets, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 18, at Jacksonville, 8:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Tennessee has a schedule that ranks as the second easiest in the NFL with an opponents' 2013 winning percentage of .438. It has five games against playoff teams.
The Titans are 6-point underdogs at sportsbooks for the opener at Kansas City. Tennessee lost 26-17 at home to the Chiefs in Week 5 last year. That was Fitzpatrick's first start in place of Locker. Tennessee led the game 13-0 at the half and 17-13 with under seven minutes left. The Chiefs intercepted Fitzpatrick twice in the final 6:14.
The first four games might be the toughest quarter of the season with three playoff teams and only one home game. The Titans didn't play Cincinnati last year and were swept by Indianapolis, although both games could have gone the other way. Then there is an easy four-game stretch before the bye against teams that all finished well under .500. The Titans split with both Jacksonville and Houston last year. All four games were extremely close.
Out of the bye is another stretch of three road games in four but only the Eagles were a playoff team among that group. The final four games all look winnable, especially if the Colts have nothing to play for in Week 17, which is a possibility. Tennessee hosted the Jets in 2013 and blew them out 38-13.
NFL free picks: 'Over' 6.5 wins. This is largely based on what appears to be one of the most kind schedules in the NFL: Look at that home slate! Locker is going to have to stay on the field for all 16 games. Playing for a big contract extension won't hurt Locker's motivation. A .500 record is doable as is perhaps fringe wild-card contention.