- Win Over/Under: 8 (-115/+105)
- Make AFC Playoffs: +150 (40%)
- Win AFC South: +350 (22%)
- Win AFC Championship: +1200 (8%)
- Win Super Bowl: +2500 (3.9%)
The Action Network’s Projected Wins: 8.31 (15th)
The Titans were to the 2017 NFL playoffs what Young Buck was to G-Unit: From Tennessee and surprisingly accomplished but already forgotten.
Despite winning a playoff game and going 9-7 for two straight seasons, the Titans fired head coach Mike Mularkey. They were lucky to make the playoffs after their Week 16 loss to the Rams. Evidently, in firing Mularkey the Titans decided he was more like Jeff Fisher than the up-and-coming Sean McVay.
The Titans hired Mike Vrabel to take Mularkey’s place and brought in McVay’s understudy, Matt LaFleur, to be their offensive coordinator.
Ironically, though, the Titans overachieved under Mularkey.
Their win totals according to Pythagorean expectations were 8.1 in 2016 and 7.4 in 2017. And despite bringing in a new and presumably forward-thinking coaching staff, the Titans have seen oddsmakers lower their win total to 8 from 9 last year.
Does this scream value, or is there a reason to be skeptical?
In all fairness to Mularkey and former offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, it’s easy to mock their exotic smashmouth scheme — guys, maybe next time don’t try to make something outdated sound cool by adding another outdated word before it — but it actually played to the offense’s strengths last season.
Tight end Delanie Walker and wide receiver Rishard Matthews were their same old reliable selves in 2017 for the most part, but the two new starting wideouts — hamstrung rookie Corey Davis and (the now-retired) veteran Eric Decker — were a disaster.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota threw 141 combined passes to Decker and Davis in 2017, and only one went for a touchdown. Mariota ended up averaging 7.8 yards per attempt to players not named Davis or Decker — which was right in line with the quarterback’s career average of 7.6 coming into 2017 — but only 6.4 when throwing to the two underachievers.
Essentially, targeting Davis or Decker turned Mariota into a rich man’s Jake Locker.
When the Titans used 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end), they ranked 30th in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average, so they used it at the third-lowest rate in the league. In non-11 formations, they ranked No. 2 in DVOA.
In other words, they were forced to use exotic smashmouth principles because not doing so would have been like exotically smashing themselves in the mouth.
But the old coaching staff wasn’t without fault. It became too predictable and didn’t design plays to help the struggling wideouts.
Mariota wasn’t particularly sharp, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. He even somehow managed to struggle more from a clean pocket than under pressure — and he had Pro Football Focus’ fifth-ranked offensive line.
The hope is that LaFleur, a healthy Davis, a 1-2 punch of Derrick Henry and former Patriot Dion Lewis at running back and another top-five O-line will lead to offensive improvement in 2018.
LaFleur watched as McVay brilliantly schemed open receivers in Los Angeles last year and Kyle Shanahan did the same in Atlanta the year before that. LaFleur should be able to do the same for Walker, Matthews and Davis.
It’s concerning, though, that 2017 third-rounder Taywan Taylor lost reps to less-athletic 2016 fifth-rounder Tajae Sharpe this preseason. Considering Mariota’s previous success with shifty slot receivers such as Kendall Wright and even Harry Douglas, Taylor seems like the better option.
Vrabel and coordinator Dean Pees inherit a defense that opponents didn’t bother to run on last year because it ranked No. 7 in DVOA vs. the run but just No. 24 vs. the pass.
The team’s most notable addition is cornerback Malcolm Butler, but the whole “siphoning corners from New England” thing hasn’t worked out yet: Logan Ryan had an average PFF grade of 74.1 in his last two years with the Patriots but a 65.4 in his first season with the Titans.
Butler was thought by many to be a No. 1 corner after earning an 83.3 grade in 2016, but the Patriots seemed to know regression was coming. Last season they added Stephon Gilmore, and Butler dipped to a 71.5, ultimately getting benched in the Super Bowl.
If the secondary makes a jump, it will probably have less to do with Butler and more to do with second-year corner Adoree’ Jackson,
fan All-Pro safety Kevin Byard and a solid pass rush featuring Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan.
Ultimately, the Titans are a lot like the Lions: A team that finished 9-7 last season, replaced its coach with a former Belichick disciple and could conceivably improve … without improvement showing up in the win column.
The Titans’ 9-7 record last season was largely built on a 5-1 division record, but with Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck healthy again, there’s no easy out in the AFC South. It’s conceivable their divisional record could flip this year.
It’s hard to imagine the Titans sweeping the Jaguars again. The Titans were also demolished by the Texans, 57-14, in the one game Watson played. The Titans went 2-0 against Jacoby Brissett’s Colts, but they won by only four points on the road. And in 2016 a Titans team with the No. 16 defense and the 26-touchdown version of Mariota got swept by the Colts with a similarly shaky defense but a healthy Luck.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Titans go 9-7 again, but with a new coaching staff and a suddenly-tough AFC South, I’d be even less surprised if they went 7-9. – Chris Raybon
The Bet: Under 8 Wins
Tennessee Titans 2018 Schedule
- Games Favored: 7
- Avg. Spread: -0.2
- Strength of Schedule: 13th (1 = Easiest, 32 = Hardest)
Survivor Pool 101
- Use the Titans: Week 13 vs. NYJ
- Use Titans’ opponents: Week 3 @ JAC, Week 10 vs. NE
Fantasy Football Outlook
- Top Picks: RB Derrick Henry, RB Dion Lewis, TE Delanie Walker, WR Corey Davis
- Sleepers: QB Marcus Mariota, WR Taywan Taylor
- Potential Bust: WR Rishard Matthews
Best of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+
“We saw some support come in for Tennessee to win the Super Bowl at 40-1 and moved them to 25-1. Not much else is coming in the other future markets.”
– Westgate bookmaker Jeff Sherman to The Action Network’s Michael Leboff
Delanie Walker Over/Under 5.5 Touchdowns? (-115/-115)
Despite entering his age-34 season, Walker is still playing at a high level and will be a focal point of the offense again this season.
However, with the potential breakouts of Davis and Taylor, the Titans likely won’t have to lean on Walker as much as they did in years past. There’s also a chance that they allow their tight end of the future, Jonnu Smith, to see the field more in his second season.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Walker finishes with exactly five touchdowns, but the odds are in favor of the under. – Sean Koerner
The Bet: Under 5.5 Touchdowns
Target Marcus Mariota as an Underdog in DFS
The Titans figure to look vastly different in 2018 under the tutelage of LaFleur, but it remains to be seen whether Mariota can evolve into a more consistent quarterback.
Mariota has struggled to produce as a favorite throughout his career: According to the FantasyLabs NFL Trends tool, he’s averaged a -1.4 Plus/Minus and a 42% Consistency Rating in 21 career matchups when favored.
But he’s added value as an underdog, posting a strong +2.3 Plus/Minus and a 65% Consistency Rating with an average ownership rate of just 5%. – Ian Hartitz