It is difficult to envision a matchup between two 2-14 teams from a year ago being so anticipated. However, with the Tennessee Titans season opener on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that is exactly the scenario.
The reason this game is garnering so much attention is because of the rookie quarterbacks. Tampa Bay and Tennessee had the top two picks in the latest NFL draft, and with those picks they selected quarterbacks. The Buccaneers selected Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, while the Titans grabbed Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. While both quarterbacks are more focused on facing the opposing defenses, the intrigue in this game purely rests on how both quarterbacks perform.
Keys to victory for Tennessee
The key to the game does not rest on Mariota’s shoulders, rather, it rests on the Titans’ ability to put Mariota in comfortable situations. After a preseason that saw Mariota complete 70 percent of his passes, the Titans will now see how their rookie quarterback will adjust to regular season speed. Luckily for the Titans, Mariota’s ability to run will help him avoid possible pass rushes. But in terms of passing plays, the Titans may call plays that reduce Mariota’s chances of making rookie mistakes.
As for the defense, applying pressure on Winston is crucial. With Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson as reliable targets, if Winston has any time in the pocket, he has the arm and the football IQ to get the ball in the places it needs to be. Luckily for the Titans, the Buccaneers’ offensive line has been suspect and struggled heavily throughout the preseason.
Players to watch
The obvious choice is Mariota, with many experts and fans claiming him to be a definitive franchise quarterback. While much should not be made of a single game, especially his first career start, Mariota’s arrival has brought a considerable level of excitement to the franchise.
The combination of Bishop Sankey and rookie David Cobb in the backfield will also be a fascinating development to keep an eye on. The Titans are high on Cobb, but he and Sankey both had their moments of prominence during the preseason, as well as their struggles. Sankey’s elusiveness and Cobb’s power present versatility at the position the team has not had since Chris Johnson and LenDale White were in the Titans’ backfield.
The impact of Brian Orakpo and Perish Cox on the defensive side of the ball will also be key. Both players hope to help improve a defense that finished No. 27 in yards allowed and No. 29 in points allowed last season.
Most significant match-up
Seeing the Titans’ defensive line against the Buccaneers’ offensive line will be a treat for fans. Last season, the Titans were No. 31 in the NFL against the run. If Doug Martin can remain healthy for the Buccaneers, he presents a litany of issues. The Titans will have to control the line to prevent Martin from taking over the game, and as mentioned before, they have to put pressure on Winston. Even though the Buccaneers were 2-14 last season, they have the offensive talent of a playoff team.
The Buccaneers have significant issues on their offensive line, meaning Orakpo could potentially spend much of the day bothering Winston. Mariota will be solid and safe against last year’s No. 28 ranked pass defense. He won’t take a lot of downfield shots, but he will deliver short and accurate passes. Tampa Bay also finished last season with an 0-8 home record. The Buccaneers do have the weapons to put up a ton of points against a shaky Titans defense, but for the first week of the season, both teams are at their early stages of development. The Titans, at least for now, appear to be further along. For these reasons, Tennessee wins 24-14.
Edited by Cody McClure