Maybe the Nashville Predators will be drinking beer and cheering wildly for the Tennessee Titans this NFL postseason.
It would be a nice payback for the support Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and his offensive line provided as they cheered on their NHL brethren to the Stanley Cup Final.
This could happen, folks. Three months before the start of the regular season, the Tennessee Titans are one of the teams I have my eye on when it comes to making the most improvement.
The Titans made remarkable strides in 2016 under coach Mike Mularkey, who quieted critics (such as myself) while proving he did deserve to be promoted from interim coach to the permanent chair in Music City. After totaling just five wins in the 2014 & ’15 seasons combined, they went 9-7 in 2016.
Now, Tennessee seems primed to take the next step — become a playoff team and an AFC contender. I believe that will happen this season, and I believe the Titans will remain a contender for the foreseeable future. For a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in nine years and hasn’t won a postseason game in 14, the Titans appear ready to join their NHL brethren as the talk of the town.
The primary reason is Mariota. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner took a major step in his development in his second NFL season in 2016. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft behind Jameis Winston, Mariota showed why the Titans invested so greatly in him.
The athletic, mobile Mariota threw for 3,426 yards and 26 touchdowns while being intercepted just 9 times. Mariota suffered a broken right leg in Week 16, but he has been making strides in the offseason and is expected to be fully ready when the season starts.
Mariota is the centerpiece of what is becoming a strong nucleus. Yes, the NFL world revolves around the quarterback, but Mariota needs help — and he has it in Tennessee.
The Titans scored big in a 2016 draft trade with the Rams and have built a nice roster in a short period of time. Not only did the team end the 2016 season appearing primed to take a big step forward in 2017, but it also got better this offseason.
The Titans addressed their two biggest areas of need in the top 18 picks in the draft. At No. 5 (acquired from the Rams in that 2016 trade), Tennessee gave Mariota a new toy in the form of Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. He was the first receiver taken and is considered to have a high ceiling. At No. 18, the Titans took USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. He is a dynamic player who can return kicks and perhaps even play a little on offense. It was a dynamic first round for an explosive young roster.
In free agency, Tennessee bolstered its defense with strong CB Logan Ryan (New England) and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (Denver). Those are two nice pickups.
Here’s another reason why the Titans are ready to take the next step: They play in a manageable division. Now, there are things to like about the other three teams in the AFC South — there’s no doubt the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts (hello, Andrew Luck’s shoulder issue) and the Jacksonville Jaguars have some good things going for them. But each team also has big question marks.
The Titans may have the fewest questions of any team in the division. And Tennessee could finally see a payoff with a playoff berth this year.
If so, surely there will be some room in Nissan Stadium for the Nashville Predators come next January.