Looking for a breakout team in the 2017 NFL season? I nominate the Tennessee Titans, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 but are on the right track behind young franchise QB Marcus Mariota. Let’s break down Tennessee’s schedule.
The Tennessee Titans’ AFC South Division will go against the AFC North and NFC West this season. The Titans were second in their division at 9-7 last year and thus also play the other two second-place teams in the AFC outside of the North (Dolphins and Raiders).
Tennessee’s strength of schedule is ranked as tied for the second-easiest in the NFL (only division-rival Indy’s is easier) as the Titans’ opponents had a combined 2016 winning percentage of just .439 (111-142-3). Playing in perhaps the NFL’s weakest division helps. The Titans will have only six games against teams that finished with a winning record, and two of those are against AFC South champ Houston.
The Titans have a win total of 9.5 on NFL odds for the coming season with the ‘under’ a -145 favorite. I believe they could be like the 2016 Raiders in finally returning to the playoffs. Tennessee’s 9-7 record last year was the franchise’s best since 2011. It hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008 when the Titans won the division under then-coach Jeff Fisher.
Marcus Mariota looks like a future superstar under center. He suffered a broken leg in a crushing Week 16 loss in Jacksonville last year but should be good to go for training camp. The Titans drafted Mariota a big-time target with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 draft in Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. He caught 97 balls for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, and his 5,278 career receiving yards is an FBS record. Davis ranks second in NCAA history in career receiving touchdowns with 52.
The good news for the Titans and their 2017 schedule is the bye week comes right at midseason, which is ideal. The Titans have three sets of back-to-back road games and two sets of consecutive home games. That’s reasonably well-balanced.
In Week 1, Tennessee is a 2-point NFL betting underdog against the visiting Raiders. Oakland visits Nashville for the third consecutive season and won the previous two. Last year it was 17-10. The Raiders could be the toughest game on the schedule. The Week 6 game vs. Indianapolis is notable because it’s the Titans’ first home Monday night game since Nov. 17, 2014.
The December portion of the schedule looks the easiest. Only Houston had a winning record among that group. The Cardinals are rebuilding a bit, the Niners are one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL, the Rams were inept on offense in 2016, and the Jaguars are always a mess. The Titans have a three-game winning streak against the Jaguars in Nashville. Best to finish vs. Jacksonville than Indy or Houston.
The Titans are +2250 to win the AFC title on 5Dimes NFL odds and +4000 to win the Super Bowl. While I wouldn’t go that far, I might make an NFL pick on Tennessee to win the AFC South when those odds are released.