This article is part of a series previewing the 2018-2019 NFL season where we will cover quick notes on all 32 NFL teams, favorite potential storylines, win-loss predictions, the playoff picture, and my picks to compete in Super Bowl LIII.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were one missed called away from being the team that faced the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. Myles Jack stripped New England Patriots RB Dion Lewis on a trick play and recovered the fumble untouched. A quick whistle from the officials did not allow things to play out, which would have given the Jags a 27-10 lead with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter. They were that close. This team is not going to forget how close they were.
Although I am not a Blake Bortles believer, offensive coordinator Paul Hackett has found a way to minimize his deficiencies (particularly accuracy) by executing a run focused offense with more dinking and dunking in the pass offense. When you have one of the top three defenses in the league, your goal as an offense is not to lose the game, and I believe Bortles can be a game manager and let his first round running back Leonard Fournette take on most of the pressure.
That aforementioned top tier defense is the real deal, and good enough to win a Super Bowl. The team had four Pro Bowl starters last season which included CB’s Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye, DE Calais Campbell, and DT Malik Jackson. This does not include other freaks throughout the defense like LB’s Telvin Smith and Myles Jack, DL Yannick Ngakoue and Marcell Dareus, and Safeties Tashaun Gipson and Barry Chruch. This defense not only has All-Pro talent from the front seven to the secondary, but there are not any holes on the defensive side of the ball. The loss of veteran leader Paul Posluszny will not be easy to replace, but Myles Jack was a top five prospect in his draft class, and he has shown that the hype was not fake.
There is a swagger to this team. Jalen Ramsey made headlines this week by giving brief descriptions of all the quarterbacks around the league. Some of my favorite ones were Joe Flacco “sucks”, Andrew Luck isn’t “that good”, and Big Ben is “decent at best.” I love it. I think this whole defense is fueled by Ramsey’s swagger. This defense can carry this team to a Super Bowl victory, no matter what Bortles does. They are that good. That is why I have them earning the top seed in the AFC this season, and the road to Atlanta will be going through Jacksonville. Who would have ever thought that would ever happen? Gotta love the NFL!
Favorite Potential Storyline: Jalen Ramsey seems to always be in the middle of something (he is currently suspended from the team until August 20th) and I could see him getting into a scuffle this season that gets him suspended for a game or two. Ramsey might be the best corner in the league right now, and he is a great leader on the field. I am excited for the media to rip Ramsey’s commitment to the team if he does something questionable. Always one of my favorite clickbait stories.
Prediction: 12-4 (1st in AFC South, 1st seed in AFC Playoffs)
The Tennessee Titans maxed out their 2017 potential with a 9-7 record, beating the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild card round of the AFC playoffs, and promptly getting their ass kicked by the Patriots wagon. If you are a Titans fan, last season had to make you feel great about the direction the team was going, despite having a below average head coach in Mike Mularkey. Patriot legend Mike Vrabel has taken the helm as the Titans head coach and looks to optimize the talent assembled by general manager Josh Robinson into a top five defense league wide. The Titans added multiple free agents from the Patriots that include RB Dion Lewis and CB Malcom Butler to help establish a locker room culture resembling those of Vrabel’s former coach, Bill Belichick. The team did not have a lot to work with in the 2018 draft but managed to get two guys that the front office was very high on in Alabama LB Rashaan Evans, and Boston College OLB Harold Landry. The two rookies will not begin the season as starters but could see expanded roles as the season moves along. The Titans are proving that their franchise is moving in the right direction, but my feeling is that there might be a slight regression from their success in 2017. This prediction has more to do with other teams making significant improvements to pass the Titans rather than the Titans getting worse as a football team, though it might take a half season for the team to get comfortable with new offensive and defensive schemes.
Marcus Mariota, when healthy, has proved that he can be a winning quarterback in this league. To this date, Mariota still has not thrown an interception in the RedZone. 41 touchdowns. 0 picks. One of the craziest stats I have seen in a long time. Derrick Henry showed his ability to be a top running back in this league last season but is being tasked with being the main man now that his partner in crime, DeMarco Murray, is retired. Lewis will likely take over the third down duties, which should help Henry make a smooth transition. The receiving core is going to be reliant on young talent for the second season in a row, hopeful that last season’s fifth overall pick in the draft, Corey Davis, can prove why the team took a shot at him after an injury plagued rookie season. Delanie Walker is one of the most underrated tight ends in the game, but is now 35, and his years are numbered. The unit on the offensive side of the ball that will fuel this offense and has given Mariota the ability to have all the time he needs, is the offensive line. OT’s Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin (who is recovering from a torn ACL) are two All-Pro tackles while center Ben Jones, and guards Quinton Spain and Josh Kline contribute to one of the league’s top offensive lines.
The Titans defense ranked in the middle of the pack in yards allowed per game last season, but the source of those yards was alarming when broken down into rushing and passing yards. The Titans run defense ranked in the top five in rushing yards allowed but finished in the bottom five in passing yards allowed. The front seven, led by DT Jurrell Casey and OLB Brian Orakpo made it nearly impossible for teams to run the ball on the team, but when it came to the passing game, the Titans defense was like swiss cheese, holes all over the place. These struggles are the reason Mularkey is gone, and Vrabel has taken over the team, and now can implement his defense. The addition of Butler along side his former New England teammate, CB Logan Ryan, will be beneficial, and allow Adoree’ Jackson to slide inside to the slot. The loss of safety Johnathan Cyprien hurts, but due to the unexpected abundance of quality safeties still in the free agent market, the franchise was able to bring in former Pro Bowler Kenny Vaccaro.
The Titans could very well reach the postseason once again, and it would not surprise me, but teams like the Texans and Chargers have given me more confidence going into the 2018 NFL season. Vrabel will bring in a culture that this team needs, but the first five games of the season for the Titans is daunting, and it might be too late for a turnaround come November and December.
Favorite Potential Storyline: Corey Davis was projected to be a high usage player for the Titans before struggling with countless injuries throughout his rookie campaign. If Davis can stay healthy, I think we could see multiple games from him where he records 8+ catches.
Prediction: 7-9 (3rd in AFC South)