The NFL is releasing their 2020 regular season schedule on Thursday night as via a primetime TV event on NFL Network at 7:00 PM CT. Currently, the league plans to push forward with a “normal” schedule, including 4 preseason games and 16 regular season matchups, though obviously things could change as developments with COVID-19 progress over the coming months.
We already know the Titans opponents and locations of games this season, the release will just tell us the “when”.
- HOME: Bears, Bills, Browns, Lions, Steelers, Colts, Jaguars, and Texans
- AWAY: Bengals, Broncos, Packers, Ravens, Vikings, Colts, Jaguars, Texans
According to a breakdown by our friends over at Blogging the Boys, the Titans have the second easiest schedule in the league this year based on Vegas odds (though the source material for those odds has the Colts as the team to beat in the AFC South so take that for what you will).
The Titans, coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship and boasting a bonafide star in rushing champ Derrick Henry, a potential breakout star in second year receiver A.J. Brown, and a popular young coach in Mike Vrabel, are likely to get a little more shine on the airwaves this fall than they have in recent seasons. However, the small market and the fact that — despite his success last season — Ryan Tannehill still doesn’t qualify as a “superstar” quarterback on the level of a Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson that drive TV ratings will keep them from getting marquee treatment from the league.
There are a lot of interesting elements to an NFL schedule, but here are some of the items on my wishlist for the Titans heading into Thursday night’s release.
1. Four primetime games
This is a relatively big ask, I know. The Titans got just one primetime slot last year — the forgettable Week 3 matchup in Jacksonville — and haven’t been tabbed for four since 2009, when they were coming off a 13-3 season (they did end up with four in 2018, but that was the result of a Week 17 flex).
However, there are some really interesting matchups on the slate this year that could help the cause in addition to the above mentioned success and increased star power from the Titans themselves. Let’s take a look at the top potential primetime matchups:
- Titans at Ravens: It wouldn’t totally surprise me to see this game as a part of the league’s primetime opening week offering. The league traditionally opens the year with a Thursday night matchup featuring the defending Super Bowl champs (last year’s Bears-Packers opener was a rare exception for the league’s NFL100 celebration). However, the Sunday night game and one of the Monday night matchups are usually reserved for teams that either played in conference championships or finished as a top seed the previous year. Titans-Ravens offers both, and given the history between the two teams and the Titans spoiling Baltimore’s great season last year, there are a ton of storylines to market. I bet this one is on primetime, even if it’s not Week 1.
- Titans at Packers: The AFC and NFC runners-up will play in Lambeau this year. That’s pretty appealing and you add to it the Mike Vrabel-Matt LaFleur connection. It feels like a primetime-worthy game.
- Titans vs Steelers: Four of the last seven matchups between these former AFC Central rivals have been placed in primetime slots. There aren’t a ton of additional tie-ins here, but these are two teams expected to contend in the AFC and there is some bad blood in their past.
- Titans vs Bills: Another matchup of two AFC contenders with history. The Titans haven’t played the Bills on primetime since 2000, the year after the Music City Miracle, however that could change with both squads appearing to be on the rise.
- Titans vs Texans: I’d say it’s very likely that one of the two Titans-Texans matchups gets ticketed for primetime. They’re both coming off playoff appearances and the shared history between the franchises, the cities, and the coaching staffs make this a worthwhile game from a narrative perspective. If the Titans add Jadeveon Clowney, that intrigue jumps another few notches.
The Titans-Colts could also be a good primetime candidate and you could make arguments for the Browns (rematch of last year’s opener) and Bengals (the NFL is going to want Joe Burrow on TV a lot), but I think the five above are the best candidates for night games.
2. Someone besides Jacksonville on Thursday Night Football
Speaking of primetime... playing the Jags on TNF has become a pseudo-tradition for the Titans. The AFC South rivals have met on Thursday night in five of the last six years with the only interruption being the Titans ill-fated trip to Pittsburgh in 2017. Interestingly enough, the Titans have only played three distinct opponents on TNF since it’s inception in 2006 and all of them are on the schedule this season:
- Jaguars (5)
- Steelers (3)
- Colts (2)
The odds seem pretty good that Tennessee winds up getting stuck playing one of those three on Thursday night again this year, but I’d rather it not be the Jags. The “Titans and Jags on TNF” has become something of a punchline used by national media types to poke fun at and I could go a year without hearing the same old tired material.
3. A favorable bye week location
The Titans have been fortunate to avoid the super early bye week in recent seasons, but that makes me feel like they’re due to get stuck with one. The NFL — absurdly — starts byes in Week 4 and they run all the way through Week 12.
Most teams — especially those with realistic playoff aspirations — would prefer their bye to come in Week 8 or later. Last year, the Titans bye came in Week 11 and it seemed to help propel them down the stretch. Getting a bye in Week 4, after just three games, and facing a gauntlet of potentially playing 16 weeks in a row without a break (if they reach the AFC Championship again) would be a nightmare scenario for a team like Tennessee.
4. No games against teams coming off byes or extra rest and no long road trips
The NFL schedule is imperfect when it comes to the arrangement of bye weeks. Not only do some teams get saddled with a ridiculously early bye week, but you’ll also see teams that play multiple opponents coming off bye weeks while others see schedules that feature zero matchups at a rest deficit.
The ideal scenario is to play as many Sunday games against teams coming off Monday Night Football as possible while not catching opponents coming off either their bye week or a TNF “mini-bye”.
Usually, the NFL likes to keep teams from playing on the road for three straight weeks, but it does happen occasionally. The Titans would prefer to avoid a stretch like that if possible and they’d definitely like to avoid multiple road games leading into a divisional matchup.
The Titans will play all of their games except one — at Denver — in the Central and Eastern time zones so there is no big west coast swing to be worried about this year.
5. Catch teams at the “right time”
It’s hard to know for sure what the “right time” is going to be for all these opponents right now. Key players getting injured can make a huge difference with regards to how tough a certain opponent might be any given week.
However, there are a couple teams that you’d probably like to see at certain times of year more than others. The most obvious one is Cincinnati. Catching a rookie quarterback early, before they figure it out, is always a good thing. The same goes for the Bears, who might also be breaking in a new starter in Nick Foles. It would be nice to get them early, especially with a shortened offseason.
The Broncos are a team that I could see going either way. On one hand, Drew Lock is still a young, inexperienced QB and he’s going to have some young, inexperienced weapons in Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler to throw to (in addition to Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant). Catching them early could be a good thing. On the other hand, December in Denver will likely slow down a lot of that horsepower on offense and steer that game more towards the type of slugfest the Titans would enjoy.