Marc and Ben are here to take you through the transition from regular season to postseason with in-depth breakdowns of every Wild Card game. Also, they hit on various topics around the league, including why the Dolphins and Giants deserve no sympathy for missing the playoffs, a foolproof plan for the Cowboys to go undefeated next year, and if Derrick Henry is worthy of the Madden 99 Club.
Schedule: @DEN, JAX, @MIN, PIT, BUF, HOU, BYE, @CIN, CHI, IND, @BAL, @IND, CLE, @JAX, DET, @GB, @HOU
EDGE Vic Beasley (FA), CB Johnathan Joseph (FA), DL Jack Crawford (FA), OL Isaiah Wilson (Draft), CB Kristian Fulton (Draft), RB Darrynton Evans (Draft)
Losses: DL Jurrell Casey (Trade), OL Jack Conklin (FA), QB Marcus Mariota (FA), Logan Ryan (FA), DL Austin Johnson (FA), RB Dion Lewis (FA), WR Tajae Sharpe (FA), EDGE Vic Beasley (Pastoring)
Last year’s playoff run was magical. Now it’s up to the Titans to continue that over a full season. I have my doubts Tennessee has historically been inconsistent in the regular season. Even Derrick Henry has gotten off to slow starts the past few years before exploding down the stretch.
Then there’s the matter of free agency. Including the March trade of Jurrell Casey, the Titans lost some important pieces this offseason while only bringing in one marquee player. That would be streaky ex-Falcon Vic Beasley, who has already made his presence felt with the team—by not being present at all. Beasley has been M.I.A. pretty much all summer with no clear return date set. Apparently, crushing quarterbacks doesn’t appeal to him as much as crushing sermons.
With his status unknown, the offseason losses could really stand out. Jack Conklin is the one poised to sting the most. Henry’s dominance wasn’t just because of his insane physical attributes. Tennessee’s offensive line hit its groove around the same time as its stud back and the group opened multiple massive holes every game. Besides Conklin, every other starter is returning. That leaves his oldright tackle spot as the position to watch. Rookie first-rounder Isaiah Wilson was expected to start early on, but his play and decision-making have been underwhelming. Veteran Dennis Kelly has been a spot starter for the Titans for years, so this could be his first shot at a full-time gig. Also, right guard Nate Davis was carted off in today’s practice. Suddenly, the whole right side of the line is questionable.
On the other side of the trenches, the questions are even more pressing. Casey had been one of the faces of the franchises for most of his nine-year career, all with the Titans. Clearly, they think 2019 first-rounder Jeffery Simmons is ready to take over. The only worry about him coming out was his recent ACL tear, so after rehabbing it as a rookie, he has the talent to break out in year two. With Daquan Jones taking one spot beside him, two-thirds of the line is set. Between free agent signing Jack Crawford, 2019 UDFA Isaiah Mack, and rookie Larrell Murchison, there are a lot of options for the last spot, but none are particularly inspiring. If Simmons doesn’t take the expected leap, this will be a weak unit.
Middle linebacker is in good hands with Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans. Beasley’s return to God puts a damper on the edge rotation, though. Harold Landry is solid at one spot, but the Titans spent their money here for a reason. 13th in the league in sacks last year, they’re poised to be mediocre once again without their big acquisition. Less sacks isn’t out of the question, either, given the defensive line turnover.
The last major departure came in the secondary—a place Tennessee couldn’t afford any. With injuries to both Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson, Logan Ryan bounced between the slot and outside, playing well wherever. Now that he’s gone, those two will have to stay healthy. If not, newcomers Johnathan Joseph and Kristian Fulton will have to fill in just like the Giants signee did. Even at full strength, this has proven to be an extremely inconsistent unit for the Titans. Luckily, they have excellent safety play behind them, with star ballhawk Kevin Byard leading the charge.
For all the talk of losses, one under-the-radar gain for Tennessee is a full season of Ryan Tannehill starting. With him at the helm, they were 7-3, compared to 2-4 with Marcus Mariota. The $118 million man won’t keep up last year’s efficiency, but should keep up the strong play nonetheless.
Tannehill to A.J. Brown was special last year, and the young receiver is another guy to watch. As a rookie, he was both an excellent deep threat and YAC machine. While he’s been banged up in camp, a monster season is definitely possible. Behind him, the receivers are uninspiring. Corey Davis is a certified bust at this point while Adam Humphries didn’t produce much in the slot. Jonnu Smith is interesting at tight end, though. Same goes for rookie Darrynton Evans, who will take over the third-down back role from Dion Lewis.
I don’t expect the Titans to improve much from last season. Another win feels fair given a full year of Tannehill and the team’s tendency to start slow. They should run over the division both on the field and in the standings, but they’re the weakest of my predicted AFC champions. A return to the championship game feels unlikely. To be fair, nobody expected it last year, either.
What’s your record prediction for the Titans? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.
With Jeff Fisher at the helm, the Rams unsurprisingly finished 7-9 in 2015. But, the team had grown tired of Fisher’s patented mediocrity. The Rams had just announced a massive move to Los Angeles after years of feuding with St. Louis about stadium funding. To capitalize on a flashy market like L.A., you need star power, which the Rams sorely lacked.
Two weeks before the 2016 draft, GM Les Snead took his shot to get a star. In a nearly unprecedented move, he traded all the way up from 15th to 1st overall, sending a bounty of picks in the process. Los Angeles’ target was Goff—a promising quarterback out of Cal—even though Fisher was reportedly not a fan.
Tennessee happily pounced on L.A.’s offer. Already armed with a young quarterback in Marcus Mariota, they had no use for Goff. Still, finishing with such a poor record in back-to-back years was unacceptable. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt was canned, and his interim replacement, Mike Mularkey, was given the job full-time.
Tennessee Post Trade
Things started to turn around quickly in Tennessee. After winning five games combined the last two years, they won nine in 2016. In fact, the Titans have won nine games every year since this trade, with two playoff appearances to boot. Give credit to their haul from the Rams trade for their consistent above-averageness.
Tennessee received multiple players who played huge roles in their miracle AFC Championship run last season. It started at the 2016 draft, where instead of sitting back with the 15th pick, they traded up to 8th to select Conklin, who was a crucial piece from day one.
He started every game in his first two years and was a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie. But, in the divisional round game his second year, he suffered a torn ACL that held him out the first three weeks of 2018.
That season was brutal for Conklin. Between the ACL rehab, a concussion, and another knee injury, he couldn’t stay on the field. All the injury uncertainty pushed Tennessee to decline his fifth-year option, which turned out to be a colossal mistake.
Conklin returned to his old self in 2019 as the Titans’ mauling offensive line powered them down the stretch. Had Tennessee taken a leap of faith and believed in his recovery, they would’ve been able to keep their outstanding o-line together. Instead, Conklin will suit up for the Browns next season.
Losing Conklin could really hurt another player Tennessee acquired in this deal. Selected in the 2016 second round, Henry struggled early in his pro career. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner played second fiddle to DeMarco Murray his first two years.
But, the Titans had faith in his potential and handed him the reins in 2018. For most of the year, Henry was pedestrian. Then, one fateful Thursday, something changed. From that point on, he finally put his mesmerizing physical tools together to dominate. Games like that decimation of the Jaguars became commonplace as Henry became the centerpiece of an offense that routinely overpowered opponents.
Conklin and Henry were massive hits for the Titans, even though both could be gone by next season (Henry is on the franchise tag with reportedly no traction on a long-term deal). Those two alone make this deal a win for Tennessee, so anything from the rest of the haul is straight profit.
While it’s a high bar set, the other players Tennessee acquired aren’t close to matching it. They’ve merely been solid while the other guys are stars. Johnson encapsulates that perfectly: he was a good rotational piece, but could never win a starting job. Now, he’s headed to New York on a cheap deal with the Giants.
Davis hasn’t come close to matching the expectations of a top-five pick. 2016 was his best year, and even that was unspectacular. Seemingly every year there’s rumors he’s primed for a breakout, but it’s becoming clear he’s best suited as a number two or three receiver.
Smith is almost the opposite case of Davis. He came into the league with low expectations as Delanie Walker’s backup. All he had to do was block hard and make a few play action catches. Then, as injuries deteriorated Walker’s career, he was thrust into a starting role.
While there have been some exciting flashes and his usual strong blocking, his career high in yards is just last year’s 439. I feel like his hype has gotten out of control, with far more games he was invisible for than ones he took over. Still, with Walker now gone, Tennessee is relying on him to be their starter. As a late third-round pick, that’s a good return.
Given all the high picks they received, the Titans really just had to not tank the draft to come out ahead of the Rams. They did more than that, though. Not one player they took can be considered a complete bust and some of them are among the league’s best at their positions.
The team moving back in draft trades almost always wins, and Tennessee certainly did not buck that trend.
Los Angeles Post Trade
Unlike the Titans, the Rams did not immediately improve from this deal. A 4-9 start to the second iteration of the L.A. Rams led to Fisher’s firing. The man he advised against drafting didn’t get off to a great start, either.
Case Keenum beat him out in training camp and when Goff finally got a chance to play, it was ugly. Virtually every stat (5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, 0-7 record) paints a horrible image, and the eye test did nothing to change it. Sure, the team was terrible and Goff wasn’t considered a pro-ready prospect, but his rookie season was jarring.
Considering how bad they were and all the picks they traded away, the Rams seemed destined for a rough few years. To make matters worse, L.A. hired Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay to replace Fisher. While he was renowned as an offensive genius, more focus was paid to how young he was. At just 30 years old, McVay was younger than a player he was poised to coach. Given the non-existent track record of success for coaches that age, the reasons to doubt the Rams were piling up.
But, McVay proved everyone wrong almost instantly. In week one, L.A. dominated in their home opener. Next thing you knew, the Rams were 7-2 and riding one of the best offenses in the league. Shortly after that, they locked up their first playoff birth in 13 years.
Seemingly overnight, McVay transformed L.A. from a team with one of the bleakest futures in the league to a team with one of the brightest. The following year, they made the Super Bowl in a losing effort to the Patriots.
Just as he did with the team, McVay completely changed the perception around Goff. It can’t be understated the difference between McVay’s creative offense and Fisher’s beyond outdated one.
After his 5:7 ratio as a rookie, Goff threw 28 touchdowns to 7 interceptions his second year. During the Rams’ Super Bowl run, he posted stellar numbers once again. Suddenly, the bust talk turned into top-10 quarterback discussion. As a reward for his drastic improvement, Goff received a 4-year, $134 million contract.
After a horrible start to his career, everything was going Goff’s way, but 2019 was a different story. His numbers took a huge hit and a light started to shine on his phantom improvement. I thought Goff was overrated even during the Super Bowl year, and last year showed exactly why. With a weaker supporting class and a down year from McVay, he was unable to carry the team himself—something the true best quarterbacks in the league do frequently.
For the Rams to have had any chance at winning this deal, Goff would’ve needed to become one of the absolute best quarterbacks in the league. That simply hasn’t happened yet, and Goff would likely hang around the 20 range in my rankings.
Unsurprisingly, L.A. also didn’t get much out of the throw-in picks they received. Cooper looked like he might be something after he was the Pro Bowl return man in 2017. But, injuries caused the Rams to shockingly cut him the next year.
Outside of having an awesome name, Hemingway did nothing for the Rams. Thomas is in the same boat, even though he shares a name with one of the best players at his position.
While they handily lost this trade, the Rams would probably do it all over again. Goff might not be elite, but he is a franchise quarterback, and teams are willing to any price for those.
Final Verdict: Titans Win
This may be the biggest blowout I’ve looked at so far. Goff might be the most valuable player in this deal, but even that’s arguable, and the sheer volume of good pieces Tennessee received is insurmountable.
Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.