NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 25: Derrick Morgan #90, Jurrell Casey #99 and Shaun Smith #93 of the Tennessee Titans defense wait for the offense of the Denver Broncos at LP Field on September 25, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Broncos 17 - 14. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Allow me to interrupt the offseason optimism for a moment and bring Negative Nancy to the party. The Titans exceeded expectations last year with a 9-7 record, but I think it'll be extremely difficult for them to top that win total this year. Nine seems to be the number I'm stuck on. When looking at the schedule, I think the Titans can notch 7-9 wins this year. I'd consider that an acceptable range for them, and if they fall somewhere in between I'd probably be pretty happy. Ten or more wins seems like it'll be out of reach, and here's why:
1) A Far Tougher Schedule: A perk of suffering through a 6-10 season is that the NFL softens the schedule for those bad teams. We were a good team last year, and our schedule is stronger as a result. Sure, we're looking at paper rosters right now. Yes, the NFL has ingrained "Any given Sunday" into my mind too. That won't stop me from looking at the schedule and taking my best guess. I just can't find ten wins on there.
2) A QB Switch is Coming...Sometime: No one knows how the much-discussed QB competition will end, but at some point this year it seems likely Jake Locker will play. I have my doubts that the transition will be easy. If Locker is starts at the beginning of the year, there will be some growing pains (read: mistakes) to learn from as the season progresses. If Locker gets the call in midseason or later, it means Matt Hasselbeck has played poorly, gotten hurt or the season has spiraled out of control.
3) Success is Hard to Maintain, Especially for a Young Team: This can be tied to the first point, but there are teams every year that jump up or slide down the standings. Personally I look for the teams that took a bigger leap than expected or had an inflated record. The 2011 Titans aren't the best example of that, since they only did slightly better than I thought, but it is one of the reasons why I think they'll have a slight bump down on their record.
There is good news. I'm not the only one here to say this, but I think it's possible for the Titans to be better this year than last and still finish with less than 9 wins. The defense should continue to progress as Gray uses more of the playbook. Hopefully we can improve on the offensive and defensive line. I want to see more growth out of the Titans' young stars. If we can accomplish these things, it'll go a long way to making the season a success, even if the record doesn't reflect that improvement.