When the 2016 season ended with the disappointment of not making the playoffs despite a 9-7 record and wins over five playoff teams, the Tennessee Titans could point to one primary issue as to why the failed to reach the postseason.
It was their 2-4 record inside the AFC South, including a crushing week 15 loss in Jacksonville that virtually ended Tennessee’s postseason hopes. So not surprisingly, the emphasis of the off-season was to do better inside the division in 2017.
The Titans’ recent history with division foes has been ugly. They have lost 11 straight to the Indianapolis Colts. They are 3-9 over the past six years against the Houston Texans, and they have split with the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars every year for the past six years.
On Sunday, the Titans travel to Jacksonville again, and in week one, the Jaguars were anything but lowly, recording 10 sacks and four turnovers in dismantling the Texans, 29-7.
With the Titans standing at 0-1 after losing at home to Oakland, Sunday’s game could be pivotal in in the team’s divisional fortunes this year. A win, and the Titans would essentially lead the division at 1-0 with one division in in hand. A loss, and Tennessee falls two games behind the Jags, who would also be 2-0 in the AFC South.
“The goal for us is to win our division, and it’s got to start somewhere. This Sunday is a great opportunity for us,” Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said.
As for the bad memories of last year’s loss in Jacksonville – coupled with Mariota breaking his fibula in that game, leading to surgery and months of rehab – the quarterback said he won’t dwell on the injury, but knows that the pain of that loss stayed with the club into the off-season.
“We didn’t play very well. That’s something for a lot of guys lingered throughout the off-season,” Mariota said. “Obviously we want to play better and play to our potential. It all started today and as we go throughout this week.”
Last year’s loss won’t be the rallying cry for the Titans this week against the Jaguars. But it won’t be completely written off either.
“They definitely whipped our tails last year, but last year is last year. It’s a new year and a new team, just like them. So we’ve just got to be ready to play for anything,” guard Josh Kline said.
Added linebacker Brian Orakpo, “It’s in the back of our mind. We’re not totally concerned about last year, but it’s motivation.”
The bigger motivation, though, is simply winning inside the division so as to have an easier avenue to the playoffs at the end of the year.
“We’ve got to start emphasizing it from the start, and there’s no better way for redemption from the setback we had last week than to go out and play this week against the division opponent,” Orakpo said.
Defensive end Jurrell Casey sat out Wednesday’s practice with lower back tightness. Also, Tye Smith was out with his broken had. The Titans may try to remove Smith’s cast later in the week to see if he can play with the injury.
Johnathan Cyprien is out with a hamstring injury, and linebacker Wesley Woodyard was out of practice today due to illness.