Tennessee Titans: Are they Super Bowl contenders or pretenders in 2021?

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports)
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports) /

If you were to ask Tennessee Titans fans, most would say this team is a bonafide Super Bowl contender, especially after the acquisition of wide receiver Julio Jones. It’s understandable for fans to feel that way coming off the heels of an 11-5 season where Ryan Tannehill had a very efficient season and superstar running back Derrick Henry ran for 2,000 yards.

There are several reasons to believe this team could be contenders, especially when you look at their offense. While the transition to Todd Downing as the team’s offensive coordinator could provide a possible downgrade in play-calling, the only major area of concern for this team offensively is at tight end, where Anthony Firkser will be asked to replace former Titan and ultra-athletic Jonnu Smith.

If Firkser can have a defined role in the passing game where he isn’t being asked to do too much, the loss of Smith shouldn’t be a factor though.

So, are the Tennessee Titans contenders or pretenders in 2021?

The biggest concerns with Tennessee lie with the defense and whether or not they can become a respectable unit in 2021. Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson didn’t really provide fans with confidence in the Tennessee Titan’s defense after the 2020 season.

Their pass rush was non-existent. Their secondary was a sieve. This season will provide the chance to erase that sour taste that was left in every Titans fans’ mouth.

The question is whether or not the defense will improve noticeably from where they were in 2020 and how much of an upgrade can Bud Dupree and Denico Autry provide as pass rushers. As you know, Dupree is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and will, no doubt, be added back to the Physically Unable to Perform list upon his return.

As for Autry, he’s no spring chicken anymore at age 31, but the fact that he will be motivated when playing against division rival Indianapolis certainly helps in those meaningful meetings.

Until we see how Dupree bounces back from his injury, there will be skepticism about whether or not Tennessee’s problems in the pass rush have been solved. The secondary certainly also has its question marks with the health of rookie corner Caleb Farley, the uncertainty with Kristian Fulton, and veteran Janoris Jenkins, whose better days are clearly behind him.

On a positive note, rookie Elijah Molden could turn some heads this season, with the versatility to play both slot corner and free safety.

While the feeling should be that the Titans are certainly a playoff-caliber team, it’s easy to be doubtful about whether or not they can get past teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills, the Cleveland Browns, or the Baltimore Ravens come January.

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The Tennessee Titans aren’t capable of stopping Mahomes and Allen, at least not right now, and the Browns and Ravens are more well-rounded in all three phases of the game. Depending on how Carson Wentz rebounds, the Indianapolis Colts could present a challenge in the regular season and during the postseason as well.

Until we see this defense dramatically improve its pass rush and coverage in the secondary, it won’t be time to book any flights for Super Bowl LVI, but they should still, however, make the playoffs with this star-studded offense fairly easily.