The NFL released it’s 2108 schedule last night, and the Tennessee Titans saw something strange when they saw theirs…
They saw themselves playing in three nationally televised primetime games, as well as their first game in London.
And it can be largely attributed to their franchise quarterback, Marcus Mariota. Even on the heels of the worst statistical season of his career.
The NFL is all about star power, and if you want to know who they believe are bankable commodities then look no further than their prime time lineups each year.
Since the inception of Thursday, Sunday, and Monday Night football, you can count on certain teams and players (usually quarterbacks) being heavily featured….
The Dallas Cowboys, Tom Brady and the Patriots, Big Ben and the Steelers, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Whatever scraps that are left are usually thrown to exciting young quarterbacks looking to leave their own mark on the league.
In the five years prior to Mariota’s arrival in Tennessee (2010-2014) the Titans were featured in just five of those contests, and most were late season Thursday Night matchups that had no impact on teams fighting for playoff spots.
Tennessee’s quarterbacks during that stretch?
A mentally fragile Vince Young, a past-his-prime Kerry Collins, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker, Zach Mettenberger, and Charlie (Clipboard Jesus) Whitehurst.
Entering his fourth season, the Mariota-led Titans will be featured in seven primetime matchups and a game in London by season’s end. And that’s not counting the two primetime playoff matchups from last season.
Yes, Mariota regressed in 2017…throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. He hasn’t led the Titans to a division crown and has yet to play a full 16 game regular season.
Those are facts, but with that being said, it is also a fact that Tennessee’s win total has increased in each of the last three seasons with Mariota under center (3 in 2015, 9 in 2016, and 10 in 2017). The Titans were 2-14 in 2014.
When given a chance to redeem his sub par season with a playoff berth on the line, Mariota showed the grit, heart, and ability to will his team to victory over what was considered the best defense in the league when he stiff-armed Jacksonville’s Barry Church to help secure the victory in the closing minutes of last year’s season finale.
A game that most experts said the Titans would lose.
The following week, with millions of eyeballs glued to the screen, Mariota led the Titans to one of the biggest road comeback victories in playoff history after falling behind 21-3 to the heavily favored Kansas City Chiefs.
A box-office type of performance that was not lost on the NFL schedule makers.
And the Titans’ 2018 primetime opponents further prove that the league has confidence that Mariota can put on an entertaining product against some of the bright young qbs in the league.
Mariota faces off against Dak Prescott on November 5th in Dallas. Now let’s be honest, the Cowboys’ schedule is littered with worthy opponents and quality qb’s, but the Titans were selected as their primetime Monday night counterpart.
Mariota also faces last year’s breakout star, qb Deshaun Watson, when the Titans and Texans clash on Monday Night Football on November 26th.
Tennessee’s annual Thursday Night game with the Jaguars should look far different from the meaningless matchups of the past. Both teams won playoff games last season and are favored to do so again this year. With a December 6 date, this game could determine who takes the AFC South crown this season.
And for their first game abroad, Mariota faces potential future Hall of Fame inductee Philip Rivers when the Titans take on the Chargers in London on October 21st.
Tennessee’s ascent from the doghouse to the playoff penthouse has been gradual, as has their exposure to the national audience. With a contract extension looming in the not too distant future, the newfound national exposure could lead to a huge payday for the Titans’ franchise qb.