None of the teams that finished with six wins or fewer last year is less likely to improve into a playoff club than the Tennessee Titans, says Grantland’s Bill Barnwell.
On average, more than 25 percent of such teams advance to the playoffs.
Barnwell ranks the 10 contenders and give the Lions the best chance.
He’s got the Titans 10th of 10 teams and the Jaguars seventh.
Barnwell rationale: The Titans were already good in close games last year, so a jump there won’t make them better. The out of division schedule is very difficult. They paid too much attention to the offense and not enough attention to the defense in the offseason.
Barnwell says: “That's great and all, but the only move the team made to repair its defense — the one that allowed a league-high 29.4 points per game -- was to bring in Bernard Pollard. Maybe they can play the Patriots every week?"
I say: I think they did a lot more than Pollard. Like Gregg Williams or not, the scheme and attitude will improve. George Wilson is an upgrade as a third (or even second) safety. Sammie Hill can help them stop the run up the middle better. Ropati Pitoitua wasn’t my favorite addition, but he might help the run-stopping cause, too. And rookie corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson will have a chance to contribute in a secondary playing more man coverage.
Barnwell rationale: He sees an upgrade at quarterback as he expects Chad Henne to start from the beginning. They underperformed their point differential. They had a bad record in close games. They suffered a ton of injuries.
Barnwell says: “Of course, 2-14 is still 2-14. That said, teams have made leaps this big from depths this low before. Squads that won two games or fewer in a given year have improved by an average of 4.4 wins the following season since 1989. There's even an example of a team that went 2-14 and immediately made the playoffs one year later, and the Jaguars won't have to look far to emulate the example: It was last year's Indianapolis Colts. I wouldn't suggest that the Jaguars are likely to be a breakout team, but it wouldn't be unprecedented, either.
I say: I’m not buying that Henne will win the job or keep it. I expect it will be Blaine Gabbert’s at the start and for a good percentage of the season if he’s healthy. To make a jump virtually no one is expecting, they’ll have to be better than the sum of their parts. Even if they do, the talent gap between them and the rest of the division, even the Titans, is significant.
Luke Joeckel could start at right tackle for any of the other three teams in the division, I suspect. Can you name another guy who could?