The Tennessee Titans are coming off of back to back winning seasons. Last season, the team was even able to win a playoff game and advance to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. However, national media continues to underestimate them. The Titans replaced an aging Demarco Murray with shifty back Dion Lewis to compliment Derrick Henry on offense. On defense, the team added cornerback Malcolm Butler and rookies Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry in the linebacking corps. The most important move, however, may have been replacing Mike Mularkey’s coaching staff with Mike Vrabel who has brought on Dean Pees and Matt LaFleur as his coordinators. The Titans had a fantastic offseason in all aspects after a season with a playoff win. However, they aren’t seen by many as a contender in a weakened AFC.
Although power rankings are not important to the outcome of games, they hold a lot of water for NFL fans. Titans fans will agree that power rankings never seem to put the team in the position of an elite team in the league. Averaging the most recent power rankings from NFL.com, ESPN, CBS Sports, USA Today, and Pro Football Focus, Tennessee is rated as the 14th best team in the league. This makes them a fringe playoff team when they were one of the last eight teams remaining last year. Despite the improvements on the roster and the coaching staff, the Titans are still seen as an average team.
This may be because of their small market or their last decade of mediocrity. Nashville is not seen as the center of NFL football and the team is far from the most popular team in the league. They also missed the playoffs for almost ten years before returning last season. These factors led to a reputation of an irrelevant team and the franchise has struggled to shake it off. The opinion of the national media hasn’t changed despite recent success, and it’s hard to tell what the team will have to do to be seen as a true contender.
Power rankings are based on opinion, but odds are based on stats and facts. These shouldn’t take the Titans’ reputation into account, but they are still widely underselling the team. The opening Super Bowl odds listed the Titans as tied for the 16th best odds in the league. They have the same odds as division rival Colts and a team struggling with their quarterback situation, the Ravens, 40-1. The team won 10 games last year and replaced their biggest issue, their coaches. These odds seem like a steal. The Titans may not win the Super Bowl, but they should be higher than tied for the eighth most likely team in the AFC to win it.
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Earlier, the odds for each team to make the playoffs were released. The Titans are listed at +165. This ties them for the eighth highest odds in the AFC with the Raiders. These odds don’t make sense, given the Titans were in it with the Patriots in the first half of a divisional round game. The disrespect from oddsmakers is confusing considering they are supposed to be making the odds based on play, not reputation. The Titans have the roster to be a contender in the AFC, but are being placed in the middle of the pack.
The most famous example is Deion Sanders not knowing who Kevin Byard was. The All-Pro safety led the league in interceptions last year, but an NFL Network personality didn’t know how he was. He was also only rated as the 80th best player on the NFL Top 100. Tennessee didn’t have any players in the top 50 of the list and only four Titans were included. This left off players like Jack Conklin, Malcolm Butler, and Dion Lewis. The reputation of the team seems to also affect players who deserve more love than they get.
How will it change?
The Titans are still seen as irrelevant in the NFL even after back to back winning seasons. They have a chance to change that this year. The only way to become relevant is to beat “relevant” teams. Lucky for Tennessee, three of the four teams in the conference championship games make up four of the games on their schedule. Beating the Eagles, Patriots, or Jaguars should put national media on alert. The only other way their reputation will change is through a deep run in the playoffs. The improvement of quarterback Marcus Mariota and the receiving corps will be key. Fans love an explosive offense and having Matt LaFleur as the new offensive coordinator should help.
The Titans shouldn’t worry about media opinion, but it does bother fans to see their team disrespected. They need to worry about winning games and the rest will follow.