Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Rank examines the Tennessee Titans.
"Tough break," she said.
Of course, the narrative of the day was the Chiefs' -- read Andy Reid's -- inability to close out a winnable playoff game. I looked at it another way. The Titans are one of the risers in the NFL. You shouldn't expect them to go to Kansas City and win a playoff game, but I sure did. Many of you considered them an afterthought much in the same way Kofi Kingston was an afterthought in the WWE's "Money in the Bank" match this past weekend. I mean, Kofi is great. And it's not weird to see him on the main event stage. It's just that nobody expected Kofi or the Titans to win it with the big guys looming. I guess that makes the Patriots Braun Strowman now that I think about it.
1) The Patriot Way
The Titans made a pretty bold stroke, dismissing head coach Mike Mularkey after last season. And I like it. It's very rare that NFL teams will dismiss a coach after he leads them to the playoffs. Yes, Broncos fans, I know your team parted ways with John Fox after he led his team to the playoffs. (And as a Bears fan, let me say thanks for that.) The Titans went one better, however, and mutually agreed to part ways with Mularkey after a playoff win. And that seemingly never happens in the NFL.
Teams and coaches are like romantic couples. Sometimes the fire is gone and it's better to go your separate ways. But a playoff win is the NFL equivalent of driving to the airport to keep your partner from going away to art school. And you stay together even though you'd be better off apart. Kudos to the Titans for realizing by the moment they walked past the Hudson News and made it to the gate that maybe it was time to let that bird fly. You had some fun, but now it's time for something new.
Now, we can argue about whether Mike Vrabel was the right choice to replace Mularkey. I mean, it seems like just yesterday I was bemoaning the fact that he was stealing fantasy points away from Randy Moss (Vrabel had two TD receptions for the Patriots in 2007!). Now he's running an NFL franchise. It's a bold move, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off. I just like that we're looking at some new ideas.
2) Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis
I know a lot of Titans fans might be saying to themselves, "Why are we signing a guy who was benched for the Super Bowl?" Just kidding. Nobody was saying that. Butler is a great addition to a cornerback group that already includes Logan Ryan and Adoree' Jackson, which is a pretty good cornerback trio. It's probably the best group the team has had since the days of Samari Rolle and Denard Walker. I love that the AFC South has become so quarterback-unfriendly with some of these secondaries.
Lewis is another great addition, too. I know the fantasy dorks wanted Derrick Henry to become a thing. And he still can, just not in the way they want. But shame on the Titans for being more interested in winning actual games and not your fantasy title. I love the idea of Henry and Lewis as a tandem. They could work in much the same way LeGarrette Blount and James White operated in New England two years ago. Henry can do the between-the-tackles goodness. He'll probably see an increase from his 40-percent share of the snaps last year. Lewis will be the gadget guy who will get around 35-40 percent of the snaps, similar to what he got with the Patriots last year.
3) Marcus Mariota
If there is one good thing I have to say about Vrabel, it's that he didn't rely on some of the old-school coordinators who were available this off-season. It could have been so easy for Vrabel to say, "I need a veteran play caller" and bring in Mike Shula, which is like trying to pitch a new TV show with Vince Vaughn as the lead. And that's not to besmirch Vaughn. I loved him in "Wedding Crashers", "Old School" and hell, I might have been the only person who liked his season of "True Detective." But damn it, we want something new.
And you're going to get it with OC Matt LaFleur, whom they nabbed from the Rams. He's a young guy from an innovative offense. I love this. It brings this Titans offense into this century. It's like being a kid who has been playing on an old-school Nintendo and then you suddenly drop a PlayStation 4 in his lap. It's an exciting time for Mariota. We haven't seen the full-range of his abilities just yet.
4) That offensive line
Now, let's be honest. One of the reasons why we love this offensive line is because of its theatrics during Nashville Predators playoff games. It's amazing. And we can have a longer conversation about how more sports teams should support the locals at some other point. Hit me up on Facebook or something. I'm very serious about this.
But this offensive line is very good at what it does on the football field, too. Pro Football Focus ranks them fifth among all O-lines based on last year's statistics, which is great. There is room for improvement here, though. The Titans were kind of locked into a rather unimaginative offense and never really got a chance to shine. It might take some time, but the offense should be able to make a smooth transition into this new system thanks in no small part to the strength of the offensive line, led by Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin.
5) Kevin Byard
It was quite an interesting offseason for Byard. He led the NFL with 10 takeaways in 2017, including a league-high eight interceptions. He was selected to his first All-Pro Team, which is kind of a big deal. He even got to spend some time communicating with Deion Sanders on social media. So it was a pretty exhilarating offseason for him.
I will say, he was a tad low on NFL Network's "Top 100 Players for 2018". I mean, No. 80? That's not right. But he has a lot of potential for the coming season. And while I do like the new age of ideas coming from the offensive side of the ball, it was a nice stroke to bring in Dean Pees to run the defense. Pees was the defensive coordinator for the Ravens from 2012-17. Hey, one veteran coordinator is fine. Think of it like a buddy-cop movie with a rookie and his old-school partner.
The Titans are going to go to the playoffs again this season. Or you can find me going for a dip in the Pacific Ocean this January.