As one of seven new head coaches in the NFL this season, Mike Vrabel is in a no-win situation. The Tennessee Titans won nine games and qualified for the playoffs last year, meaning that’s the absolute floor for the 2018 team. Anything less is a failure. The expectations are high in Nashville and in an effort to make sure those are met, Vrabel brought in a new coaching staff and vowed to be more diverse with his offense, taking advantage of Marcus Mariota’s unique skill set. We’ll see how that works out for him in the Week 1 opener against the Miami Dolphins.
Watch this Week 1 regular season matchup live on Sunday, September 9, 2018, at 1 p.m. ET at Hard Rock Stadium.
NFL Opening Odds at BookMaker.eu
Tennessee Titans -1
Miami Dolphins +1
There are plenty of questions about both teams heading into the opener. The Titans have a new coaching staff and new offensive philosophy while the Fins are working with a revamped roster and hoping their quarterback makes a triumphant return. Tennessee is one of four road favorites in the opening week, but it’s a slim 1-point spread. The total sits at 45 with over 75 percent of the betting public banking on the under.
DeVante Parker – With Jarvis Landry exiled to Cleveland, this is the year Parker steps up and takes over some of the production. He caught 57 passes for 670 yards last season, but he failed to play a full season and has yet to participate in all 16 games in any of his three years. Now there’s a chance Parker could miss the opener after breaking a finger during the preseason.
The potential loss of Parker is just the tip of the iceberg for the Fins, who need to get Kenny Stills cleared from a concussion in order to participate in the opener. Stills had 57 receptions for 847 yards and six touchdowns last year to place second behind Landry in all three categories.
Player to Watch
While Parker and Stills are questionable for the opener, the Titans can’t wait to get Corey Davis on the field. Last year’s top pick was injured out of the gate and never made an impact in the Titans’ run-heavy offense. That is going to change in 2018 under new coordinator Matt LaFleur. The Titans have vowed to diversify their schemes and utilize more of Mariota to take advantage of his strengths.
That includes more passing attempts on traditional running downs. The Titans were too predictable last season and the staff feels that led to Mariota’s poor numbers. His touchdowns dropped from 26 in 2016 to 13 last season while his interceptions increased to a career-high 15. Mariota didn’t have a true No. 1 wideout and Davis is expected to fill the role after overcoming the ailments that limited him to 11 games and 34 receptions.
Matchup to Watch
The addition of cornerback Malcolm Butler and safety Kenny Vaccaro gives the Titans a strong secondary that will make it tough for Ryan Tannehill if Parker and/or Stills are unavailable. It would be difficult for Miami to sustain anything positive in the air even if the two wideouts were healthy.
Butler crawled in Bill Belichick’s doghouse in New England and was benched in the last Super Bowl, expediting his departure. It was a sudden fall for the man who was a Super Bowl hero a few years back and played in every regular season game until being let go. Butler and former Pats teammate Logan Ryan will man the corner spots with Vaccaro joining last year’s leader in interceptions Kevin Byard. Adoree’ Jackson will see the field as Tennessee’s nickel back.
Free ATS Pick
On paper the Titans look like an improved club over the 9-win team from last year. The biggest concern is how Mariota and Co. adjusts to the new offensive format. LaFleur has the midas touch after helping transform the Rams offense last year and working with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan during his MVP campaign. Mariota certainly has the tools and the offense will be more up-tempo and pass-oriented, a far cry from the ground and pound attack of Mike Mularkey.
The Dolphins jettisoned a lot of their star players to build a better culture in the locker room. While that may be the case, it won’t translate on the field. And it’s tough to tell if Tannehill has returned to form after missing last season with a knee injury. This is a game the Titans need to show the new staff and schemes are headed in the right direction, and they get it in a low-scoring affair.
NFL Betting Odds: Titans 20, Dolphins 13
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