With week one of the 2012 NFL regular season upon us, everyone is ripe with anticipation. What a tease to get a Wednesday game only to then wait three full days before the rest of the games. It’s like taking a bite of steak at lunch only to wait until dinner to finish it off or opening one Christmas present three days in advance of your other fifteen. For a Tennessee Titans fan, the present we opened was like opening a pair of socks – sure it was nice, but we want to get on to the real gifts. Just like a kid with their gifts on the eve of Christmas, I am looking at the games and imagining what may be in store.
What follows are three very bold and possibly controversial predictions for week 1. I would like to lay down a disclaimer here. I do not want to pick the seemingly obvious predictions like “Chris Johnson will lead Tennessee in rushing yards”, or “Kenny Britt will be the least productive Titans WR in week 1″. What I am aiming for are the predictions that may cause you to spew a beverage out of your mouth in shock.
1. Jared Cook statistically outproduces Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski is an enigma and is a wonderful talent. He broke the touchdown record for a tight end in his 2nd year in the NFL. Jared Cook on the other hand, has been in the league longer and has produced much less.
The argument against Gronkowski
The Patriots high-powered offense lives and breathes on the arm of Tom Brady, and in order for that arm to be active, Tom Brady has to stay upright. In the preseason the Patriots had big problems on their offensive line. Tom Brady, at times, looked shell-shocked sitting on the sidelines. I expect the Patriots to use Gronkowski to help block the Titans’ suddenly surging defensive line. He will run out at times to get his targets, but they may be fewer than expected. They need QB protection more than they need a receiving threat.
The argument for Cook
Jared Cook has been somewhat frustrating to watch over the course of his career. He came into the NFL with tags like “very raw” and “loads of potential”, but we have only seen that in spurts. Because of the blocking prowess of Craig Stevens, Jared Cook only gets on the field as an offensive weapon in specific situations. He was only on the field 28% of the Titans’ offensive plays last year. That being said, this should be a game where Cook will shine. The Patriots are going to come out trying to drive the score up early and the Titans are going to need all hands on deck to keep pace. It should prove to be a high-scoring affair with plenty of passing yards to go around. With Britt suspended this week, Cook could be Jake Locker’s second favorite target behind Nate Washington.
Cook blows up and Gronk starts slow. Jared Cook will not outproduce Gronk consistently, but the Titans will need Cook catching passes this week while New England has to find an answer for pressure from opposing defenses.
2. Jake Locker statistically outproduces Peyton Manning
The love affair that the citizens of the state of Tennessee have with Peyton Manning dates back to his time as an elite QB talent for the University of Tennessee Volunteers. Peyton Manning was in Tennessee before the Titans relocated to Nashville. Because of that, you meet more Peyton Manning fans than Titans fans at times in Tennessee. Everyone is on the Peyton train – but I want to make a case for Locker to beat him…. in week 1.
The argument against Manning
Peyton is an elite quarterback, but he is coming off of an injury-marred season and is playing for a new franchise. After the Colts cleaned house, Manning chose Denver as a new home. I expect him to have a good year, but the only current Broncos he has ever thrown passes to in regular season action are former backup tight end Jacob Tamme and 36 year old wide receiver Brandon Stokley. Manning’s game is all about timing and precision so starting off against a gritty Steelers defense does not work in his favor.
The argument for Locker
Jake Locker was fighting for the starting quarterback job as recently as two weeks ago against veteran Matt Hasselbeck. He has a year under his belt, and he was able to participate fully in training camp this year – but he is still a bit green. Peyton is the better QB, but Locker has been throwing passes to his teammates for longer, and they will need to throw all game long in order to keep pace with an explosive Patriots offense. Out of necessity, Locker will be busy throwing against a questionable New England secondary and he should pile up the stats.
He may not be as pretty as Peyton, but he will have bigger numbers after week one due to chemistry, necessity, and opportunity.
3. The Tennessee Titans are (1-0) on Monday
Gotta be honest, I spit my own beverage out when I typed this one. It may be the homer in me, but I am tired of every analyst skipping over this matchup as a “no-brainer”. The Patriots are well coached and have an extremely talented offense, but they’re not invincible.
The Titans are young, athletic, and full of potential. I think the sky is the limit. If the Patriots can not solve their offensive line issues, I think Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley will introduce themselves to Tom Brady all game long. The more pressure they get on Brady, the less pressure will be on Tennessee’s young corners. On the other side of the ball, Jake Locker has the mobility to extend plays and make something happen, whether it is with his legs or his arm.
It will be an upset if the Titans pull off the victory – but they are not going to roll over just because New England is coming to town. This is a different team than last time they met, when Tennessee lost 59-0, and I think they are coming out with a chip on their shoulder.
You may think I’m crazy, but when Tennessee is (1-0) on Monday, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Make sure to spend some time with your families because now that football season is here, you may just disappear. Enjoy your teams.