Every year in the NFL, there is always one team called the "sleeper" team. It's usually a team that, whether it's because their stalwart defense or their blazing offense, will burst onto the scene, rise up into relevancy and rain on the parade of the historical elites of the league. Two years ago, it was the Raiders and the Panthers, and last year, it was the Cowboys and the Falcons. This year, I believe that it will be the Tennessee Titans. The Tennessee Titans had been struggling for a long time, with quarterback and defensive woes plaguing the team. However, their young and very talented quarterback Marcus Mariota, Mike Mularkey and his "exotic Smashmouth" style of run-heavy offense have been slowly pushing the Titans up in the NFL rankings. The Tennessee Titans can make a deep run into the playoffs this year, and here are the four main reasons why.
1. Their rushing attack is one of the best.
In the 2016-2017 season, the Tennessee Titans' offense was great. They ranked third in rushing in the league. Their "Exotic Smashmouth" running style, composed of the dynamic runner DeMarco Murray and bulldozer Derrick Henry, performed very well, gaining about 2,100 rushing yards and scoring 16 touchdowns on the ground. Expect their dominance to continue. DeMarco Murray rushed for about 1300 yards and scored nine touchdowns last season, and he shows no sign of slowing down at the age of 29. Derrick Henry, who rushed for about 500 yards and scored five touchdowns, seems to have progressed in his development. Look for him to get more carries this year, and score more touchdowns. And if that wasn't scary enough for opposing teams, Marcus Mariota is one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the league.
2. Their passing game has improved.
Their aerial attack was also proficient in 2017. Under Marcus Mariota, one of the best red-zone scorers in the league, their passing game has also flourished. The Titans also have one of the most reliable tight ends in the league: Delanie Walker. They also made smart moves to improve their passing game as well. The Titans signed one of the best red-zone receiving threats, Eric Decker, and they drafted Corey Davis, a young and very talented receiver out of Western Michigan. With their improved passing attack and already-phenomenal running game, the Titans can grow to become one of the elite offenses in the league.
3. Their defense has improved.
The Titans' defense is, well, average. The Titans averaged about 317 yards given up per-game, which put them at about 20th in the league. Their main weakness was their pass defense. They gave up about 269.2 passing yards per game and had 12 interceptions last year. That's an average number, and if the Titans were aiming for mediocrity, they did it. However, this is a team that is aiming to make a deep run into the playoffs, and that simply won't do it. To improve their pass defense, they drafted Adoree Jackson out of USC. He had a very productive career at the University of South Carolina, with five interceptions in his final year in college. He is a great asset on defense and can contribute on special teams and even help on offense. With this draft pick, as well as drafting a linebacker in Jayon Brown, the Titans are primed to make big strides in their defense.
4. They are in a weak division.
It is no secret that nowadays, the AFC south is one of the weakest divisions in the league. This year, the Titans can take advantage of that. The Jaguars have been consistently bad under Blake Bortles, and don't seem to be getting any better. The Colts have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Andrew Luck, but the rest of their team (especially their defense) is very weak. And for the Houston Texans, it seems to be the complete opposite. Their defense is strong, but their offense is weaker, and their quarterback situation doesn't seem to be doing them any favors. Because all the other teams have substantial problems, the Titans seem like the most complete team in the AFC South. The Titans can easily win this division and go to the playoffs.
At one point in time, the Titans were thought of as the worst team in the NFL. However, through smart drafting, trading and management changes, they have since become one of the rising powers in the NFL. By drafting a franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota, and adding weapons around him, the Titans seem to have made a great offense. They have also started to shore up their defense. By doing all those things, the Titans have become a dark horse in the upcoming NFL season, and I believe that they have the potential to surprise many people in 2017.