Hey, the Titans did win 10 games after all

Some of you probably remember my post in the preseason about how the the Titans wouldn’t win 10 games, as most fans suspected they would.  I took another look at that after the Titans went to 5-0, moving off my initial prediction.  So, now that the Titans did indeed win 10 games this year after all (286 times!), it’s time to take another look at where and how I went wrong.


1.  Injuries
The Titans were, again, pretty healthy in 2008.  Not quite as healthy as 2007, but still healthy.  Of
the projected opening day starters, only Kyle Vanden Bosch missed more
than 3 games.  Here’s the full list, minus the meaningless Week 17
finale:
Tony Brown, 1
Justin Gage, 3
Nick Harper, 2
Albert Haynesworth, 1
Justin McCareins, 2
Kyle Vanden Bosch, 5
Vince Young, 3
That’s
it, and that’s a remarkably healthy team.  I questioned the Titans’
depth, but it really wasn’t tested very much at all.  Even Jevon Kearse
played all 16 games, for the first time since 2001.  Haynesworth’s 14
starts tied his career high.  The injury with the biggest potential
impact, VY going down in Week 1, came at one of two positions where the
Titans could go from the starter to the backup with the least
difference in general level of play (MLB being the other).

2.  Opposing Quarterbacks

The
Titans definitely did face a stronger set of starting quarterbacks in
2008 than they did in 2007.  Surprisingly enough (to me, at least), the
pass D was largely up to the challenge.

3.  Better Overall Opponents
This
factor ended up being more of a push than I expected, with CIN, CLE,
and GB regressing more than I thought they would.  The big surprises
for me were the Jaguars imploding the way they did and the Texans being
worse than I thought (yes, it’s a loss, but the Texans being no better
than average when I thought they’d be above doesn’t make the Titans’
schedule harder).*

*-Those of you who are fans of Football Outsiders may have noticed that the Titans ranked 26th
in this year’s FO strength of schedule after being 13th last year. 
This difference is largely attributable to three games-the Colts being
treated by FO as significantly worse this year than they were last
year, and the almost-indescribable badness of the Lions.  I don’t
really like how FO does its SOS ratings, precisely for this reason. 
Playing the Lions and an average team isn’t really the same as playing
the Bengals and Browns.  But I digress…

4.  Defensive Regression
I
wish I understood defense better.  The Titans came out overall with a
slightly better defense than they had last year-overall, mind you. 
Worse than they were with Haynesworth, but still on the whole very
good, but not elite.  Most importantly, out of the Jets game (when
Chris Carr was starting for Nick Harper, with espected results), the
defense didn’t give up 20+ to a non-Colts opponent all year.

5.  Offensive Line Changes
Ok,
this was a little bit of a stretch.  I still think Amano is somewhat of
a liability at guard, and am very concerned about how he matches up
with the Ravens Saturday, but it’s not like the Titans have been last
year’s Jets or Falcons in terms of OL play.  On the whole, I think the
OL was somewhat better last year, but they’ve been pretty good this
year.

6.  Lack of Improvement in the Passing Game
The improvement here was simply the insertion of Collins leading to fewer QB fumbles and interceptions.  The Titans were 3rd in the league this year in terms of not turning the ball over on offense, including 3rd in interception rate, after being 18th the year before
Collins and the pass catchers came through a couple times, most notably
in Chicago and at Jacksonville, but outside of those 2 games and not
turing the ball over, the Titans weren’t really any better as passing
than they were the year before.

7.  Luck in Close Games
The
Titans won 9 games by 10+ points, after winning only 2 by that margin
in all of 2007.  That’s pretty impressive.  Plus, 2 more of the games
within 10 points (vJAX, @CHI) were more than 10 points until a late
score against a prevent defense.  The Titans outplayed teams by a
substantially bigger margin in 2008 than they did in 2007, and I didn’t
see that coming.

So, how’d I do, really?  I don’t really mind
being wrong, so long as I’m wrong for intelligent reasons.  There are a
couple things that ended up being reasons for optimism that I didn’t
account for enough in my preseason analysis, but those will have to be
the topic of another post.

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