I don't know about you, but I am so ready for Sunday's game. Not only is it the beginning of a new season, but this is a big time matchup. Last year when these two teams met, it turned out to be very emotional and possibly the birth of a new rivalry. Kirk Herbstreit was calling out Taylor Lewan, some idiot called for Mike Mularkey to be fired, and the refs completely screwed the Titans on two seperate calls and non-calls on pass interference in the end zone. Needless to say, this was a pretty heated game. Later in the season, Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr suffered the same season ending injury on the same day, connecting these two teams even more. Now, the rivalry between these two evenly matched teams will intensify even more, as they meet back up in the same spot as it all started last year.
Reasons For Confidence: Delanie Walker, Run Game, Offensive Improvement, The Unknown
Delanie Walker: When I think of last year's game in Nashville, the first thing that comes to mind is that Delanie Walker did not play. Jace Amaro was the top option at tight end that game, and he had been claimed by the Titans on waivers just a couple of weeks before. This year, Marcus Mariota's most reliable option will be on the field, which is great news, because the Raiders' weakest spot among starters on either side of the ball is clearly at linebacker. In a game that features two evenly matched teams, this may be the biggest mismatch. Expect the Titans to make Delanie Walker the primary target on Sunday, and start him if he is on your fantasy team.
Offensive Improvement: The offense struggled mightily in week 3 last year. Marcus Mariota was in a funk, Rishard Matthews was still struggling to get comfortable in the offense, and what many people viewed as the team's top 2 options in the passing game in Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker did not play. At that point, Andre Johnson, a 3 week old Tajae Sharpe, and Jace Amaro were the leading options for Mariota. This year? Not so much. Eric Decker, a comfortable and reliable Rishard Matthews, Delanie Walker, Taywan Taylor, and Corey Davis will be ready to rock. As a result, I am expecting this offense to score more than 10 points against the Raiders' defense.
Run Game: Though the offense struggled in last year's matchup, one place they were able to find some success was on the ground. Demarco Murray rushed for over 100 yards and a touchdown. This year, Derrick Henry will likely get a few more touches, as well. If the Titans are able to be productive in the passing game on Sunday, the Raiders will not be able to lock in against the run, and we could see more success on the ground.
The Unknown: No matter which teams are playing, this is always a factor in week one. However, I feel that the unknown is even more so a factor with Mike Mularkey. Though one could argue that the offense was too cute at times in last season's week 1 matchup against Minnesota, there were undeniably wrinkles that were debuted. I think that we will see some new wrinkles on Sunday. What happened to Adoree Jackson on offense? How about something involving Taywan Taylor? Maybe Murray and Henry in the backfield together? I truly believe that Mularkey has a few tricks up his sleeve. Other than tricks and wrinkles, the fact that there is essentially no tape of Corey Davis and Eric Decker in this offense can be viewed as a positive, as well. In one of the only weeks when the unknown is a truly significant factor, I believe that the Titans have an advantage.
Reasons For Concern: Pass Defense, Marshawn Lynch, Offensive Line Uncertainty
Pass Defense: When your team is matched up against Oakland, this will be a reason for concern. This is one of the better passing offenses in the league, and by all accounts, Amari Cooper is primed for a breakout season. The secondary still seems like it could be an issue this year, and they will have a tough test to start the season.
Marshawn Lynch: When you talk about the unknown, this is the definition of the unknown. I'm not sure anyone knows what to expect out of Marshawn Lynch. He barely received touches in the preseason, and the Raiders have other options in the backfield. However, if he looks like his normal self, this will be a tough offense to contain. (Random thought alert: When thinking about the Raiders' running backs, my mind went to their speedy and shifty backs in Deandre Washington and Jalen Richard. A guy like Jayon Brown who brings speed to the linebacker group may have a very important role on Sunday against these two, because they can catch the ball out of the backfield and make their fair share of explosive plays.)
Offensive Line Uncertainty: The offensive line struggled during the preseason. Marcus Mariota was constantly under pressure, and the run game was not as productive and promising as last summer. If the offensive line brings its struggles into the regular season, Oakland's front seven led by Khalil Mack could be a handful and disrupt any plans the offense may have. Lewan and Conklin need to have a similar performance to last year's matchup against Mack.
Prediction: As I typed this, I noticed that I was having more trouble finding reasons for concern than I thought I would. This could very well be due to September optimism, but I can say that I am feeling more confident about the game after writing this post. The offense will have a better performance than last year's game, and it will lead to a close win. Titans win, 31-28.