NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As the Tennessee Titans enter the 2020 season, it’s time for the training wheels to come off.
It’s time for the days of the Titans limping through the first ten weeks of the season and mounting a late playoff push that requires help from other teams to be over. They’re too good for that.
It’s time for the Titans to take things to the next level. It’s “success or bust” in 2020, and the team knows that.
“The expectation is to go out there and win every single game until we get to February, then go out and win that one as well,” safety and team captain Kevin Byard said.
Getting to the Super Bowl, one step further than where the team ended its 2019 season, will almost certainly require the Titans to accomplish two feats that are well within their reach but have, recently, been elusive: getting off to a fast start and winning the division.
Since Mike Vrabel took over as head coach in 2018, the Titans have never been a bad football team, but they’ve been a mediocre one for several lengthy stretches, most often at the beginning of the season.
In 2019, the Titans started 2-4. In 2018, 3-4.
Those slow starts forced the Titans to play catch-up late in the season, having to rely on difficult win streaks and help from other teams—help that they, sometimes, didn’t get—to earn a playoff berth.
After proving in the 2019 postseason that they’re capable of dismantling AFC powerhouses like Lamar Jackson’s Ravens and Tom Brady’s Patriots, the Titans have no excuse if they get off to another slow start in 2020.
Of course, how a team finishes is, ultimately, more meaningful than how it starts. But, there’s often a direct relationship between a good start and a good finish.
“If we do get off to a fast start, it’s going to be very helpful for us for the rest of the season, it’s going to take a lot of pressure off,” Titans guard Rodger Saffold said.
“If you lose your first game, you’re always like, ‘okay, I need to go back to the drawing board. What do we need to do, what do we need to correct?’ When you start winning, you’re like, ‘let me think critically of myself, but let’s continue to build.’ Through that, you continue to build confidence.”
WINNING THE SOUTH
For the Titans to take the next step, they’ll also need to win their division, something the organization has failed to do in each of the last 11 seasons.
The days of the Titans going 9-7, the record the team posted in each of the past four seasons, need to be over.
The Titans got out of their “win one week, lose the next” rut at the end of the 2020 season, and they need to stay out of it.
A 9-7 record may be good enough in some seasons to earn a playoff berth, but it’s not good enough to win a Super Bowl. There’s a reason that, through 54 Super Bowls, only one team has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after posting a 9-7 record in the regular season.
That’s because a 9-7 record is rarely good enough for a division win, a critical component of most Super Bowl runs.
When a team wins its division, it gets to host a playoff game. If a team loses its division, one or more road games are in store.
“That’s always the first team goal, win the division,” Byard said. “I haven’t won the division since I’ve been here.
“Obviously we had a great run on the road, but we ran into the Chiefs and lost that game. To be able to host playoff games, to get that excitement to the city of Nashville, is going to be a bonus.”
“WE SHOULD HAVE A LEVEL OF CONFIDENCE”
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) August 16, 2020
Frequently, when Titans players and coaches have been asked about expectations for the 2020 season, they’ve resorted to the age-old “we’re just going to take things one game at a time,” line.
“It’s cliche, and call me simple-minded, but I’m thinking about it one game at a time,” QB Ryan Tannehill said.
This Titans team knows exactly what its capable of, though.
The players proved to themselves how good they can be back in January, and they’re more than capable of reaching new heights in 2020.
“With the body of work that this team has put in, we should have a level of confidence to us,” tackle Taylor Lewan said. “This team works hard, and I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
Cover image: David Butler II & Tommy Gilligan / USA Today