Thrill of Victory

Titans' 2012 schedule loaded with prime-time games and marquee opponents

Tuesday night, the NFL finally announced the 2012 schedules, and for Titans fans, this should be one of the more interesting ones in years. Titans fans have been fond of complaining that the league overlooks their franchise when it comes to putting it in the nationwide spotlight, but this year, there should be no gripes.

Starting with the biggest of the stages, Nashville will host a Monday Night Football game when the Jets travel to town on Dec. 17 — and with the trade of Tim Tebow to the Jets, the game should certainly draw national interest. It’ll be Nashville’s first time to host a Monday game since the Oct. 27, 2008 game vs. the Colts.

Nashville will also be the center of the pro football universe on Thursday, October 11, when Pittsburgh visits for a game televised by the NFL Network.

In addition to a pair of prime-time slots, the Titans schedule is full of big-name opponents. While the New York Giants won the Super Bowl, the league’s two true best teams last season may have been New England and Green Bay, which went a combined 28-4 and collectively out-scored opponents by 372 points last season.

Fans will have all off-season to get excited about the Patriots match-up — it’s the season opener, and at home, no less — on September 9. Meanwhile, the Packers game comes Dec. 23 in Green Bay, so fans wanting to see football in the snow could well get their wish.

And while the Bears game at noon on November 4 won’t have a prime-time slot, it may be the most eagerly-awaited contest for Vanderbilt fans, who’ll have a chance to see former Commodores Jay Cutler, Earl Bennett, D.J. Moore and Chris Williams in person.

So, the schedule isn’t short on storylines and top-flight opponents. But will it be short on Titans wins?

At first blush, it’s a brutal schedule. But the NFL’s draft, free agent, and scheduling systems have done exactly what the late former commissioner Pete Rozelle wanted, which was to maintain parity within the league. Any given week, the league’s worst teams can beat the best — it happens every year.

That makes the margin for error woefully small, and it makes forecasting which teams will be at the top from year to year almost a crapshoot. But a few franchises have figured it out. Over the last decade, the league’s five winningest teams have been (in order) the Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Eagles and Packers.

All but the Eagles are on the schedule, and the Colts appear twice.

Detroit (a home game on Sept. 23) made the playoffs last year, and promises to be tough again. And the Chargers, who went just 8-8 last year and 9-7 the season before, seem to be primed for a breakout at some point: they ranked in the top six in total offense the last two years, and No. 1 in total defense in 2010.

The good news: in spite of some elite opponents, the teams on the Titans schedule (if you double the records of the teams they play twice) combined to go just 123-133. That’s partially thanks to the Colts and Jaguars, who won two and five games, respectively, in 2011. Both teams should be in the rebuilding process, with the Colts expected to be breaking in a new quarterback: either Stanford’s Andrew Luck or Baylor’s Heisman Trophy-winning Robert Griffin III.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, are struggling to find an adequate supporting cast for quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who was disappointing as a rookie last year.

So, how many games can the Titans win? Any forecast is a bit of a fool’s errand because the draft hasn’t happened, and there are still a number of quality, unsigned free agents.

My first guess, though, is that the Titans repeat last year’s 9-7 record.