Let me set the stage for what should be the strangest Tennessee Titans environment in recent history.
It all starts with what fans should be hoping for heading into the game. Like ripping off a Band-Aid, losing this weekend would hurt Tennessee Titans fans for a minute but it is better to get the pain over with quickly.
If you are a realistic Titans fan, you realize that after winning just 2 of their last 13 games, this team isn't going to overcome a 2.5-game deficit in the AFC South. Frankly, after Mike Vrabel traded Kevin Byard to the Philadelphia Eagles, it became clear that winning games was no longer the team's top priority.
Now armed with seven picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, rebuilding the roster will be a bit more manageable this offseason and that task only gets easier if the draft picks are higher. In short, Tennessee Titans fans should hope to lose enough games to get inside the top 5 of the 2024 NFL Draft rather than hoping for mediocrity.
I think 75% of Tennessee Titans fans know this and when most of the home team is hoping for a loss, the energy in the crowd is...different. It has been a while since Titans fans really felt this way. There was a minute in 2019 when Titans fans wanted to lose for someone like Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, or Tua Tagovailoa, but before that, you have to go all the way back to the 2016 season.
The single most important thing on Sunday is how good Will Levis looks. Mike Vrabel and Ran Carthon traded away a 2024 3rd-round pick to move up to get Levis, despite knowing that they were missing a 5th and a 6th that year. They hitched their wagon to Levis, and how much he can show this year will shift their offseason strategy next season.
So to recap, Tennessee Titans fans should be rooting for a loss but they should want Will Levis to look good in the game. However, there is another conflict in the fan base here that goes back to college.
A moderate portion of Tennessee's fan base is made up of Tennessee Volunteers fans and they saw first-hand how bad Will Levis was in his final season at the University of Kentucky. To make things worse, Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker was leagues better than Levis during their time in college and it upset them that the Titans traded away a premium pick to make Levis the fourth quarterback drafted when they could have kept their draft pick and waited patiently for Will Levis to fall or they could have drafted Hooker (who was the fifth quarterback drafted).
Throw in the Kevin Byard trade and the fan reaction to that, and you could have a fan base that is pretty antagonistic to Mike Vrabel and company on Sunday.
That would be enough turmoil for one weekend, but here is where it gets even more strange. The Tennessee Titans are celebrating their history as the Houston Oilers, and there will be nearly 200 former Titans and Oilers in attendance as the Titans debut their Oilers throwbacks.
That is only the half of it for the Tennessee Titans
The best way I can describe that energy is that right now the fan base is in a depressed daze, sort of like they are attending a funeral. Unfortunately, the funeral is happening on the same day as a birthday party that your mom has been planning for three years.
As if on cue, the weather is also calling for rain, which means there will be an even bigger damper on the event that the Tennessee Titans have been teasing and running promos for since May.
The cherry on top of the whole thing is that Arthur Smith is the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, and to many fans, he is the embodiment of the peak of the Mike Vrabel/Jon Robinson/Ryan Tannehill era.
2019 and 2020 were the last time that Tennessee Titans fans were actually excited to watch the offense play football, and even though the defense couldn't stop a nosebleed, the offense was fun and that was so rare in Tennessee.
After the 2020 season, Arthur Smith took the job in Atlanta and Mike Vrabel did his best to make sure that the Tennessee Titans were never excited about offense again by promoting Todd Downing to replace him. Then one year later, Jon Robinson helped make sure that the vision of painful football was realized by trading A.J. Brown to the Eagles.
Even though Shane Bowen and Jim Schwartz's defense helped carry a banged-up group of Tennessee Titans to the 1-seed in 2021, the team's hopes of doing anything meaningful in the playoffs had already died the year before when Smith was replaced by Todd "run-run-pass" Downing and since then the team has been in a free fall.
The truly chaotic Tennessee Titans fans are excited to see exactly what the atmosphere around the team would be after a Titans loss on Sunday. It would be very embarrassing for Amy Adams Strunk to have all of this attention and fanfare only to lose at home and fall to 2-5 and effectively end your season 10 weeks early.
Remember, the last time Amy Adams Strunk was embarrassed was when the Tennessee Titans got smashed in Philadelphia, and that resulted in the snap decision to fire Jon Robinson...that team was 7-5 at the time with a commanding lead in the AFC South!
Amy Adams Strunk has such a high bar for the Tennessee Titans, that every statement made about the move revolved around her (and Mike Vrabel's) confidence that she was certain that they didn't need to commit to a massive rebuild in the offseason.
The expectations were to win now, and why wouldn't she expect that? The only way the Titans could miss the playoffs was if they lost every game from then on out, but that could never happen, right? Surely, the Titans could beat the 1-win Houston Texans or the Jacksonville Jaguars once right...right? Nope.
Sitting at 2-5 with an embarrassed/angry owner, an injured starting quarterback, no real hope for the rest of the season, and the trade deadline just 36 hours away, the Monday morning after the game would be equal parts fascinating and volatile.
Oh, and did I mention that there is a growing concern in the fan base that this could be Derrick Henry's last game with the Tennessee Titans?
Knowing all of that, it is going to be an exciting day at Nissan Stadium on Sunday!