In the NFL, every game matters. Very rarely can teams afford to take days off and still have a hope of making the playoffs. However, for the Tennessee Titans, some games this season will carry significantly more weight than others.
Looking at the schedule, there are five games that should be chalked up as wins right away: Week 4 against the Jets, Week 5 against the Chiefs, Week 10 against the Jaguars, Week 12 in Oakland and Week 15 against the Cardinals. Conversely, the Titans will likely lose Week 2 in Houston, Week 6 in Seattle, Week 7 against the 49ers, Week 13 in Indianapolis and Week 14 in Denver.
For those of you keeping score at home, the outcomes of those games place the Titans at 5-5 so far. The remaining six contests could go either way and will determine if the Titans finish 11-5 and make the playoffs, go 5-11 and have a top-10 draft pick, or fall somewhere in between.
Those six all-important swing games will come Week 1 in Pittsburgh, Week 3 against the Chargers, Week 9 in St. Louis, Week 11 against the Colts, Week 16 in Jacksonville and Week 17 against the Texans. Let’s take a look at each of those six swing games to figure out exactly where the Titans will finish this season.
Week 1: At the Pittsburgh Steelers
The season opener against the Steelers should provide a great game, as the two teams have faced off in each of the last five seasons. Pittsburgh has a slight edge in those games, as they won three of the five. However, Tennessee prevailed in last year’s matchup and did more to improve during this offseason, so I expect the Titans to start the season 1-0.
Week 3: The San Diego Chargers
Historically, the Titans are abysmal against the Chargers. In fact, the team has never beaten San Diego since it moved to Tennessee in 1997. You need to go all the way back to 1992 when the Houston Oilers shut out the Chargers 27-0 to find the franchise’s last victory over San Diego. But the Chargers overhauled their coaching staff this offseason, so the early-season matchup should be in the Titans’ favor. Look for Tennessee to make history and finally beat San Diego this season.
Week 9: At the St. Louis Rams
The scheduling committee gave the Titans a gift with this game. Tennessee will be coming off its bye week, while the Rams will have a short week of preparation after a Monday night showdown against the Seahawks. For that reason alone, I’m picking the Titans to win this one.
Week 11: The Indianapolis Colts
Tennessee’s Thursday night home game against the Colts is one that I would hate to see the Titans lose. It is the team’s only primetime game all season and the thought of Indianapolis sweeping the Titans for the second year in a row makes me sick. However, the Colts have too much firepower on offense and Andrew Luck seems to always live up to his last name against the Titans. I’m putting this game in the loss column.
Week 16: At the Jacksonville Jaguars
In the 20 games against the Jaguars in the last 10 years, the Titans are 11-9. In that time frame, Tennessee has only swept the season series twice, while Jacksonville won both games in the 2005 season. In short, these two teams always seem to be evenly matched. Since I have the Titans beating the Jags in Week 10, I’m picking Jacksonville for this game.
Week 17: The Houston Texans
If Houston has the division locked up by Week 17 and rests its starters, Tennessee will win. But I expect the Colts to give the Texans a run for their money in the AFC South this year, so Houston will have something to play for during the last week in the season. That spells trouble for Tennessee, so I expect the Titans to end their season with a loss.
If these six swing games go exactly as I predict, the Titans will finish with a very uneventful 8-8 record. Much to my chagrin, I expect Tennessee to flounder down the stretch, losing five of its final seven games and finish only 1-5 in the division for the second year in a row. However, if the Titans fare better within the AFC South this year, the playoffs are not out of the question.