NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Happy 4th of July!
The Titans report to training camp later this month, and they'll begin the preseason in August.
The regular season will be here before we know it.
Every game is big in the NFL, of course. But on the 4th, I'm taking a look at four games – one in each month -- that should provide plenty of fireworks in 2017:
When and where:** September 10, Nissan Stadium.
Opponent: Oakland Raiders.
Background: The season opener should be a dandy, and one that gets the NFL's attention. The Raiders are considered one of the league's top teams, so the Titans will have a chance to make an early statement. The game will pit two of the game's top young quarterbacks against one another in Oakland's Derek Carr, fresh off his new contract, and Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Raiders have won in back-to-back seasons at Nissan Stadium, so this game provides an opportunity for some payback. It won't be easy. Carr threw for 3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns before suffering a late-season injury similar to the one Mariota endured in Week 16. Receivers Amari Cooper (83 catches, 1,153 yards, five touchdowns) and Michael Crabtree (89-1,003-8) are set to be his top targets again, along with tight end Jared Cook, who was signed in free agency.
When and where: October 16, Nissan Stadium.
Opponent:** Indianapolis Colts.
Background: The return to Monday Night Football should set up a wild scene in Nashville. The Colts have been a real pain in the rear for the Titans of late. They've dominated the series in recent years, winning 11 straight games. The Titans will face the Colts in November, but the first chance to nip things in the bud comes here. The Colts hired Chris Ballard as general manager in the offseason, and he's made some moves to upgrade the roster. The Colts added defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins, and the team also signed three former Titans – linebacker Sean Spence, defensive lineman Al Woods and offensive lineman Brian Schwenke. Quarterback Andrew Luck is back, of course. He threw for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. Receiver T.Y. Hilton led the Colts with 91 catches for 1,448 yards and six touchdowns while running back Frank Gore rushed for 1,025 and four scores.
When and where: November 16, Pittsburgh.
Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers.
Background:** It's always fun when these two square off, especially on national television. This game will be played on Thursday Night Football at Heinz Field. The Steelers are expected to be contenders again this fall behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 3,819 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2016. The Steelers also return one of the NFL's top running backs in Le'Veon Bell, and one of the league's most exciting receivers in Antonio Brown, who hauled in 106 catches for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns. Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau returns to the city where he made his defense so famous. It will also be a nice homecoming for Titans head coach Mike Mularkey, who played and coached in Pittsburgh.
When and where: December 3, Nissan Stadium.
Opponent: Houston Texans.
Background: The Titans will have to take care of business before and after this game to make it special, of course. But this one has all the ingredients for a showdown at the start of December, and the home stretch. Could the AFC South title be within reach at the start of a five-game month? The Titans and Texans tied for the division title a year ago, but the Texans won it on a tiebreaker. Who will start at QB for the Texans? Will it be Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson? Time will tell. The Texans will get a big boost on defense with the return of J.J. Watt from injury, and they have some weapons on offense with running back Lamar Miller (1,073 yards and five touchdowns last year) and receiver DeAndre Hopkins (78 catches for 954 yards and four touchdowns in 2016).
On a weekend America celebrates its freedom, the Tennessee Titans wish everyone a safe and happy 4th of July! (Donn Jones, staff, AP)