Greg Pogue details the many quirks -- good, bad and generally fascinating -- of the Titans' schedule.
By GREG POGUEFS Tennessee
The writing teams at Fox Sports South, FS Tennessee and FS Carolinas have collaborated on an extensive package of NFL schedule breakdowns for the 2013 season, specifically featuring the Falcons, Panthers and Titans.
The who, what and where for the Titans' upcoming season has long been determined.
That came soon after the close of the disappointing 2012 season. The Titans learned the
when part of the equation Thursday night, as the NFL released the schedule grid for all 32 teams.
As for the why, let's just say Titans owner Bud Adams has put coach Mike Munchak, general manager Ruston Webster, the players and staff on stern notice that anything resembling last season's 6-10 step backward is unacceptable.
Here are a few likes, dislikes and general comments about the Titans' upcoming slate:
What To Like
1. It's a matter of early survival
If Tennessee can endure road trips to Pittsburgh and Houston for weeks 1 and 2, the schedule loosens up a bit with three straight home games (Chargers, Jets, Chiefs). And come November, the Titans finish with five of their final eight contests at LP Field.
"The schedule this season has an interesting structure," Munchak said. "Two games on the road is a tough way to open for us and our fans, but that is balanced out with three in a row at home."
2. Hello, old friend
The Titans and Steelers play for the sixth straight season. The Sept. 8 opener marks the third time Tennessee has opened in Pittsburgh in nine seasons (along with 2005, '09).
But it runs much deeper between the franchises. Long rivals as the then-Oilers (now Titans) in the former AFC Central division, the clubs have had several notable games, including consecutive AFC title games in 1978 and '79 (with the Steelers winning both and eventually claiming two Lombardi trophies).
"Opening in Pittsburgh is a special atmosphere and obviously a very familiar rival through the years," said Munchak, the Hall of Fame offensive lineman who played 12 seasons for the Oilers.
3. Prime-time fun
The Titans have only one prime-time game, a Thursday night against the Colts (Nov. 14). Indy, which made the playoffs last year, figures to be even better in Andrew Luck's second NFL season.
"I am happy that we received a home prime-time game to showcase our team, our city and our fans to a national audience," Munchak said.
4. Peyton's Place
Before future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning signed with Denver last year, the Titans — well, let's make that Adams — dangled $24 million or so (per year) to lure the former University of Tennessee quarterback to Nashville.
Unhappiness with the pace and/or effort in the negotiations was a determining factor in team president Mike Reinfeldt being fired after last season. It's always a game of heightened interest when the Titans face Manning, a local favorite from his playing days at Tennessee.
5. Gone streaking
For the first time since 1981, the Titans/Oilers schedule includes three straight home games and three straight road games in the same season.
The best part: The three-pack of home games – San Diego on Sept. 22, New York Jets on Sept. 29 and Kansas City on Oct. 6 – come after the opening Pittsburgh/Houston trip ... and well ahead of the extended trip in December.
What To Loathe
1. Peyton's Place II
Manning had many field days marching through the Titans' defense with the Colts. He caused division rivals to draft defensively, in a fruitless attempt to slow the Colts down twice a season.
Always a favorite son in Tennessee, Manning has stayed closely aligned with his alma mater. There are plenty of Volunteers fans who became Colts fans because of Manning and wanted to see him wear a Titans uniform, as well.
Manning will take extra notice in preparing to play this one in Denver on Dec. 8.
2. Road worriers
A quick perusal of the back end finds the Titans traveling four times in five games.
The road run starts with three straight visits to Oakland (Nov. 24), Indianapolis (Dec. 1) and Denver (Dec. 8), before a final trip to Jacksonville for Week 16 (Dec. 22).
The lone home game during that stretch: Arizona on Dec. 15.
3. Renewing old acquaintances
Current Rams coach Jeff Fisher was very popular during his stint as Titans head coach (1995-2011). He led the franchise to its only Super Bowl berth — a heartbreaking loss to the Rams to cap the 1999 season. It was also Tennessee's first season playing in the downtown Nashville stadium.
While the postseason results waned in his final few seasons, Fisher remains a fixture in Nashville, where he still maintains a home.
It might be too strong to say his departure from the franchise was acrimonious, but you also won't find Fisher and Adams hanging out before or after the game.
4. Goin' South
Of Tennessee's seven 2013 opponents to make the playoffs last season, four hail from the AFC South (Houston and Indy twice).
Houston has won consecutive AFC South titles and figures to be a Super Bowl contender once more. Last season, the Titans went 0-4 against the Colts and Texans.
5. Super calling
For the fifth straight year, the Titans play a Super Bowl participant from the previous season. Defending NFC champion San Francisco will visit Nashville on Oct. 20. As an aside, the Titans will play five games in the 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT Sunday time slot this fall.
The 49ers feature second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took over the reins for injured Alex Smith (now with Kansas City) at midseason before leading the Niners' Super Bowl charge.
Defensively, the 49ers feature one of the best units the Titans will play all season — the blue-chip, linebacking quartet of Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith, one of the NFL's most prolific pass rushers.
If the Titans can split the first two games on the road and then take at least two of the next three at home, they might have a fighting chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
With the Titans going all in with a hyperactive free agency period and looking to bolster the roster through the draft, the time has come for Munchak to deliver a team that shows marked improvement, if not a playoff berth.
The Titans should be closer to the competitive 9-7 record in Munchak's first season as head coach two years ago than the 6-10 mess of last season.
Much of that will be on the shoulders of third-year quarterback Jake Locker, whose time has come to be an every-game productive quarterback.