The NFL is the best professional sports league in the world. The games are exciting, the fans are dedicated and the “any given Sunday” culture makes almost every matchup a toss-up. Most franchises rise and fall over time, but for the Tennessee Titans, postseason success has been just out of reach ever since the team fell one-yard short in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Some people say that parity is bad for the NFL. In reality, the league (and the NFL Draft, specifically) is set up to make the stakes as even as possible. Since the league rewards bad teams with good draft picks, even the worst teams are a single good draft or two away from Super Bowl contention.
Take the San Francisco 49ers for example. In 2010, the team was a measly 6-10, finishing third place in a disgraceful division that was won by the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks. Then, in the 2011 draft, San Francisco picked up Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick; two players who led them to a Super Bowl just two years later.
Unfortunately for the Titans, they have never had a draft like the 49ers did in 2011. In fact, for the better part of 10 years, the Titans have been stuck in this strange middle ground where they seem to be too good to get a great draft pick but not good enough to make any noise in the playoffs. I call that middle ground “NFL Purgatory.” Since Tennessee never really seems to bottom out then have a great draft—like the Seahawks, 49ers, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots all did at some point—it struggles to break free.
In the last 10 drafts, the Titans had nine first-round picks. Following a 2004 draft with no selections in the first 32, Tennessee picked sixth and third in 2005 and 2006. This was the Titans’ best chance to start building the team for success. Instead, the team got Adam “Pacman” Jones and Vince Young with those picks and began toiling in mediocrity.
In the next four seasons, the Titans made the playoffs twice but failed to win a postseason game both times. Tennessee also did not have a first-round draft pick in the top 15 during that time span. However, the team did the best it could with what it had, selecting Michael Griffin, Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt and Derrick Morgan.
In the last three drafts, the Titans have found themselves in the top 10 of the first round twice. After spending those two picks on Jake Locker and Chance Warmack, and selecting Kendall Wright with the 20th pick in 2012, Tennessee may finally have the pieces in place to break out of NFL Purgatory.
The team has already bottomed out, so anything less than a playoff appearance will be a failure in my eyes. The scary part is, looking at the Titans’ schedule, I’m not sure they can do it. I count eight or nine wins this season, which means another year without a postseason run or a high draft pick—another year spent in NFL Purgatory.
Let’s hope they prove me wrong.