Two years ago, the Tennessee Titans were one of the final four teams in the NFL playoffs. Last season, they were one of eight that won a division title.
With the 2021 season set to kick off Thursday night when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Dallas Cowboys, most regard the Titans as a borderline top 10 team. A survey of preseason power rankings from national media outlets shows that most include Tennessee in its top 10, but just barely.
“Our effort and finish, how we believe in each other, how we focus on the details, the fundamentals, the concepts, taking care of the ball, and not doing stuff to hurt the team – it is stuff that [coach Mike] Vrabel preaches every day, and the team has bought in,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “When you have guys buying in to what the program believes, and you also believe in each other and have that faith and accountability with each other, it definitely helps build momentum and pushes things in the right direction.”
With a 17-game regular season ahead, there is plenty of opportunity for the Titans to move up or down in the minds of those who produce the lists. The good news at this point is that there is not nearly as much room to go up.
A rundown of where the Titans fall in notable NFL power rankings and what each outlet has to say about them:
SI.com: No. 9
The Titans have star power and are coming off two straight trips to the playoffs, but right now our voters have them below the top-tier teams.
NFL.com: No. 11
A subpar defense has kept the Titans from a Super Bowl run in the past two seasons, but there's reason to believe the team finally improved in that area. Tennessee signed Bud Dupree and Janoris Jenkins in free agency and used the draft to add cornerbacks Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden. The offense lost coordinator Arthur Smith, tight end Jonnu Smith and wide receiver Corey Davis, but gained a future Hall of Famer in Julio Jones. Will Ryan Tannehill be the same with Todd Downing calling plays? Can Derrick Henry produce another monster season? Is Jones still a superstar? There are questions in Nashville, but the Titans' continued residence in the AFC South gives them a long rope to figure out the answers.
The Athletic: No. 10
Our voters clearly believe the Titans belong in the top half of the NFL, but there’s little agreement about where, with votes ranging from No. 5 to No. 16. The variance is understandable, given the change to the offensive coaching staff, changes to offensive personnel and massive defensive turnover. It could certainly be argued that after finishing near the bottom of the NFL in most defensive categories, massive change was necessary in that area.
Yahoo! Sports: No. 9
Ryan Tannehill was on the COVID-19 list and Julio Jones has been dealing with an injury without much update from the team. Both participated in Monday's practice, according to reporters there, so there shouldn't be much concern about their Week 1 status.
CBS Sports: No. 10
They should score a lot with all the weapons, including Derrick Henry and Julio Jones, so it's all about the defense for this group. They were dreadful last season, so any improvement should give them a division title.
ESPN.com: No. 9
The Titans expected last season to be a breakout year for [Harold] Landry after he finished with nine sacks in 2019. Landry worked to add a complementary move to his speed rush, but it didn't get results and his production decreased to 5.5 sacks. New outside linebackers coach Ryan Crow isn't allowing Landry to use his patented speed rush in camp, which is challenging him to develop another way to get to the QB. This is a contract year for Landry, so he needs to prove himself worthy of an extension.
The Washington Post: No. 6
There were — again — coronavirus-related issues during the preseason. But the Titans are an extremely solid team, and the arrival of WR Julio Jones to assist QB Ryan Tannehill in the passing game could make the offense balanced as opposing defenses contend with 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry.
USA Today: No. 7
Good luck finding a better quartet of offensive skill players than QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Derrick Henry and WRs Julio Jones and A.J. Brown. But with questions about the defense lingering, Tennessee may need to continue scoring 30+ points a game to succeed.
Bleacher Report: No. 9
The Tennessee Titans are the Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL. Despite making the playoffs the past two years (and playing in the AFC title game two years ago), the Titans don't get a lot of run as a Super Bowl contender.
Still, many of the pieces are there. Ryan Tannehill might be one of the league's more underrated signal-callers. Running back Derrick Henry has led the league in rushing each of the past two seasons. And Tennessee added Julio Jones to a passing game that already included a star in A.J. Brown.
However, the Titans fielded the league's fourth-worst pass defense in 2020, and if the Titans are going to take on the Chiefs and Bills, that defense has to get a lot better.
Pro Football Network: No. 9
Oh, you didn’t know the Titans are more than just a smash-mouth offense? Derrick Henry could topple 2,000 yards for the third straight season, but Ryan Tannehill has been dominant since changing scenery. Take Julio Jones’ impact on this offense, and you’ve got one of the league’s best offenses.
Jeffery Simmons is an ascending talent, and their additions on defense this offseason should pay dividends for advancing further in the playoffs.