Here’s Why the Titans Will Take a Big Step Backward Next Season

Some think the Tennessee Titans are headed for a bounce-back season after making a slew of splashy offseason moves. We have a different take.

The Tennessee Titans finished 6-11 last season, a respectable record considering a rookie quarterback, Will Levis, started nine of the final 11 games.

The Titans, committed to giving Levis the best chance to succeed, then made some of the NFL’s splashiest offseason additions.

Hopes are high in Tennessee. Even outside of Nashville, many believe the Titans have accelerated their rebuild and are well-positioned to improve upon last season’s record.

And yet, in our post-schedule-release win-loss predictions, we have the Titans going 2-15 and finishing last in the AFC South. They finish with the No. 2 pick in the 2025 NFL Draft, a year after owning the seventh pick.

So, what gives? Why are we so pessimistic about the Titans? Let’s get into it.

Will Levis Might Not Be The Guy

Levis, a second-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, has the talent to be a decent starting quarterback. And he certainly looked good at times in 2023, particularly during a late-season win over the Miami Dolphins.

However, until further notice, accuracy is a major issue. Levis’ 58.4% completion percentage ranked dead last among qualifying quarterbacks last season. It doesn’t matter how much arm talent you have; if you aren’t accurate, you aren’t a franchise quarterback.

Levis also posted a 33.6 QBR, which would’ve ranked second-worst if he qualified.

And if you’re into Pro Football Focus grades, which should be taken with a grain of salt, Levis ranked 30th among all QBs last season — one spot behind Josh Dobbs, one ahead of Tommy DeVito, and just four ahead of Zach Wilson. Levis’ 4.5% turnover-worthy play rate also was third-worst on PFF’s rankings.

Levis just wasn’t that good. Yeah, he had eight touchdowns, but four came in his first start. In his final eight starts, Levis threw four TDs, four interceptions, and had an awful 57.5% completion percentage.

Questions about Levis’ leadership also persist. He slipped in the 2023 draft partly due to personality concerns, and Levis himself acknowledged his leadership could’ve been better last season.

First-year head coach Brian Callahan also doesn’t sound sold on Levis’ leadership style.

“I want Will to be him,” Callahan said last month. “He’s got to do it in his own way. You can’t make people do anything that’s outside of their character. It doesn’t come across as genuine. I think Will does a really good job of staying true to who he is.

“And there’s obviously things along the way that I’ll think are important and I’ll make sure that I convey those to him. But I’m not going to ask him to go be anybody that he’s uncomfortable being. I need Will to just be the best version of himself. He’s got a job to do as the leader of the offense, as a leader of the football team, and I think he understands that.”

MORE: 2024 NFL Quarterback Rankings

None of this is to say that Levis is a lost cause. Far from it. And he gets a partial pass for playing in a bad offensive system as a rookie.

We’re just saying Levis still has a ton to prove, and that his occasional success as a rookie hardly means he’ll make a Year 2 jump.

What Will Be Their Identity Under New Head Coach?

And without Derrick Henry, for that matter.

We knew what the Titans were about when Mike Vrabel was the head coach and Henry was the lead running back.

Even without an elite roster, the Titans were a hard-nosed, physical football team that was a nightmare to play against. They could beat any team simply by working and coaching harder.

But now Henry is in Baltimore, and Vrabel is in Cleveland. In their places are Tony Pollard, who’s a completely different kind of running back, and the 39-year-old Callahan, who has 14 years of NFL experience but is taking his first swing at head coaching.

Maybe it was time for a new voice in Tennessee. But you can find plenty of people in the league who believe Vrabel is a top-five NFL head coach, so it’s hard to say swapping Vrabel for Callahan will be a net positive.

Moreover, it’s not uncommon for teams to start slow under new head coaches. It takes a while for players to buy into a new system, and even longer for a new head coach to understand how the pieces can fit. The Titans might not figure out who they are until midseason.

Outside of a Week 13 matchup with the Commanders, Tennessee’s 2024 schedule is backloaded with playoff-hopeful opponents with coaching continuity.

If Callahan and the Titans get off to a rough start, they might struggle to make up for it later in the season. But more on the schedule in a bit.

The Offseason Additions Are Overrated

The more we think about the 2023 Titans, the more they remind us of the post-Tom Brady New England Patriots.

An old-school head coach with an arguably dated leadership style? Check.

A talented but flawed young quarterback with leadership questions? Check.

An archaic roster building ill-suited for today’s NFL? check.

Dysfunction on offense after the departure of a great offensive coordinator? Check.

We’re taking some liberties there, but you get the idea.

But what does this have to do with the Titans’ offseason?

In 2021, the Patriots went for the quick-fix approach by spending a ton of money in free agency. They generated a ton of offseason headlines. And though they made the playoffs in 2021, it wasn’t because of their splashy offseason.

Outside of Matthew Judon, who faded down the stretch, and Hunter Henry, who was just OK, the Patriots didn’t get much from that vaunted 2021 free agency class. In hindsight, New England’s 2021 offseason was mostly a dud.

KEEP READING: Breaking Down The Tennessee Titans’ Schedule

It’s interesting, then, that the Patriots went for a more conservative, long-game approach this offseason despite leading the league in salary cap space.

With de facto general manager Eliot Wolf in charge, New England prioritized retaining its top internal free agents and adding on the margins. There are no shiny new toys for Drake Maye.

But the Titans? They channeled the 2021 Patriots with their offseason.

Tennessee signed Pollard, star receiver Calvin Ridley, veteran wideout Tyler Boyd, center C Lloyd Cushenberry, and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, and traded for stud corner L’Jarius Sneed. The Titans also used the 2024 NFL Draft to address major needs at tackle (JC Latham), defensive line (T’Vondre Sweat), and linebacker (Cedric Gray).

Those are some fun additions, but there are holes to poke.

Pollard, who suffered a gruesome ankle injury during the 2022 playoffs, didn’t look like the same player in 2023 when asked to handle a lead-back workload. Ridley is being paid like a No. 1 receiver but really is a decent No. 2. Sneed is a Pro Bowl-level cornerback, but he’s overrated. He finished 30th or worse in PFF’s corner rankings in three of his first four seasons. Awuzi and Cushenberry are both solid pickups.

As for the draft picks, it’s a mixed bag. Latham is talented, but was a reach at No. 7 (we had him 20th on our Big Board). Sweat has a ton of upside but entered the draft process with character concerns. We’ll see whether Gray, a fourth-rounder, sees any meaningful snaps as a rookie.

So, what’s the right way to rebuild? Is it what the Patriots now are doing after learning from their mistakes, or are the Titans wise for going all in on finding out what they have in Levis?

The answer probably is somewhere in the middle. Either way, we’ll find out soon enough.

The Schedule Is Tougher Than You Think

Here’s the full slate:

Week 1: at Bears
Week 2: vs. Jets
Week 3: vs. Packers
Week 4: at Dolphins (Monday night)
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: vs. Colts
Week 7: at Bills
Week 8: at Lions
Week 9: vs. Patriots
Week 10: at Chargers
Week 11: vs. Vikings
Week 12: at Texans
Week 13: at Commanders
Week 14: vs. Jaguars
Week 15: vs. Bengals
Week 16: at Colts
Week 17: at Jaguars
Week 18: vs. Texans

The strength-of-schedule rankings will tell you that Tennessee has a pretty soft schedule. But much of that is based on last season’s winning percentages, which don’t count for much.

Where are the easy wins? At this juncture, the Titans probably would be favored against only the Commanders, Patriots, and maybe the Vikings.

In our season predictions piece, Tennessee’s only wins came against the Colts in Week 6 and the Commanders in Week 13. That’s it. The Patriots game was a toss-up, and we went with New England.

The Titans are already 4.5-point underdogs against the Bears in Week 1, and their next three games will be extremely tough. They’ll need to hope that Caleb Williams struggles in his first game and Aaron Rodgers looks like a 40-year-old QB coming off a torn Achilles.

Then the Titans go on bye, which is way too early. You want the bye to be in the middle of the season, neither too early nor too late.

With a Week 5 bye, the Titans will be forced to play the final 13 weeks without any break. They don’t even get the mini-bye provided by playing on Thursday night.

The middle portion of the schedule includes winnable games against the Patriots, Vikings, Chargers, and Commanders. We’re going with Jim Harbaugh and Justin Herbert at home, the surprisingly competitive Patriots on the road, and the supremely talented Vikings on the road, regardless of who’s at quarterback.

It’s a subjective exercise. Sorry.

The Titans finish with five games against better teams. Yes, we’re taking the cheese on the Jaguars, who are too talented and have too good of a quarterback to crater down the stretch again.

So, yeah, we have the Titans going 2-15, even though they should be good enough to win more games. Which brings us to our final point.

Stuff Happens During an NFL Season

Tennessee’s over-under is currently set at 6.5 wins. That feels about right as the Titans probably are more of a six- or seven-win team than they are a two-win disaster.

But things don’t always go as planned during an NFL season, especially when you have questions at quarterback.

The Patriots had an over-under of 7.5 wins before last season, and they won four games. The Commanders had an over-under of 6.5 wins and also won four games. The Carolina Panthers had an over-under of 7.5 wins and finished with just two victories. The Titans and New York Giants both had an over-under of 7.5 wins but finished with six victories.

Of course, some teams exceed expectations. Look no further than the Texans, Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Los Angeles Rams, all of whom made the playoffs after sportsbooks pegged them as losing teams.

We just believe the Titans will go the wrong way.

The offense is talented but might be a house of cards. Pollard could break down at 27 years old, as running backs do. DeAndre Hopkins might be washed up. Boyd might get cut. Ridley might disappoint. Latham might not be ready. Levis might endure a sophomore slump. There might not be enough tight end depth behind Chig Okonkwo. And who’s playing right tackle?

On defense, Jeffery Simmons should be his usual, excellent self, and the cornerback room undoubtedly will be better. The safeties are passable. But Denico Autry is a big loss on the D-line, as is Azeez Al-Shaair at linebacker. And where is the pass rush coming from if teams take out Harold Landry? Arden Key is a solid player, but he’s best suited as a rotational piece.

The Titans need meaningful contributions from rookies on both sides of the ball. That’s a lot to ask for.

Ultimately, when considering all of the above factors, we found it hard to pick the Titans in all but two of their games.

That doesn’t mean we think they’re the second-worst team in football; rather, we think they project as the lesser team against most of the opponents on their schedule. And we picked against them in some of the toss-ups, but them’s the breaks.

Will most of these takes age poorly? Probably. Such is the nature of arm-chair analysis in May. But if you look up next April and see the Titans picking atop the draft, just know we told you so.

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