High Hopes: Titans Aim to "Get out of the Middle" in 2019 and Beyond

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INDIANAPOLIS – Colts banners decorate Lucas Oil Stadium inside and out, and here at the NFL Combine, the top prospects provide a look at the future of the NFL.

But the surroundings also serve as a painful reminder of what the Titans missed out on in 2018.

In 2019, the Titans want more, starting with a division title. Beating the Colts along the way would be nice, too.

In 2018, the Titans forced a win-and-in playoff scenario by winning four straight games in December. With a 9-7 record, the Titans recorded three straight winning seasons for the first time in the "Titans era."

But a loss to the Colts in the season-finale ended the season, leaving the Titans wondering about what could have been.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel is far from satisfied. Ditto for general manager Jon Robinson.

The team's fans surely agree.

"We've got to get out of the middle," Vrabel said. "Being (9-7) for three years, it's great to have a winning record. But we are all charged to win championships and that's really what we have to do. And (you) just try to prepare for each week and just go out there and do that. That's what we're trying to do this offseason, and plan for, and have the coaching and players, and player acquisition to get the roster right to win football games for our fans in Nashville and across Tennessee."

The Titans finished two games behind the Texans (11-5) in the AFC South in 2018, and one game behind the Colts (10-6) in the Wild Card race.

In 2017, the Jaguars (10-6) won the AFC South, ahead of the Titans, who advanced to the playoffs and won a Wild Card playoff game at Kansas City. In 2016, the Titans tied with the Texans atop the division, but didn't advance to the playoffs because of tie-breakers.

"This is a tough league," Robinson said. "It's tough to win on a weekly basis. We're in a good division. There's a good team here in Indianapolis that we've got to try to find a way to get those guys. All the teams in our division are good, and there's good teams (in) the AFC. We've got to try to continue to build. We've certainly set on the right path in having three (straight) winning seasons. But there's an internal drive in a competitor that once you get a taste of being in the tournament … there's a drive within all of us to try to get back to that tournament."

The Titans did plenty of good in 2018, including knocking off the New England Patriots, the eventual Super Bowl champs. Wins over Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas - all playoff teams - were impressive as well.

The Titans finished 6-2 at Nissan Stadium, and have a 16-4 mark in their last 20 home games.

But the Titans also turned in a clunker in Buffalo, and a dud vs. the Ravens.

And, yes, the Andrew Luck-led Colts continue to be a pain in the rear. The 33-17 loss on December 30 only served as the most recent reminder.

"I think we made some good strides last year," Robinson said. "We've had three winning seasons in a row, and have had a really good home record. We were in the playoffs a year ago, and won a playoff game. We lost a lot of guys, not to make excuses, but injury wise we lost some pretty key guys down the stretch there. Lost Delanie (Walker) early, and then Logan Ryan getting hurt, (Jurrell) Casey getting hurt, and Marcus (Mariota) getting hurt. It was a lot to overcome.

"Hopefully we can get those guys back healthy, and hopefully we can stay healthy through the course of a 16-game season with the players that are here and under contract, and then infuse some players both in free agency and the draft that can hopefully bolster us – try and get faster, try and get bigger, try and get more playmakers, and try to continue to add tough guys."

The Titans are looking to make upgrades on the roster this offseason.

Here this week, they're evaluating prospects for April's NFL Draft.

In less than two weeks, free agency will provide more options.

Heading into Year Two, Vrabel believes he's further ahead of where he was heading into his first season as a head coach. He's hoping it's one of the things the team can build on moving forward.

In Vrabel's mind, everyone has to be better.

"I think there's still things you want to improve on as far as my evaluation of players," Vrabel said. "I try to look back and see what I thought players maybe were last year and the success they had in the league, and if I didn't have them ranked as highly, how did I miss something?

"The one thing that I'm working on right now is improving as an evaluator and trying to find the pieces that fit into team, and the vision that I would have for the players. And as we start to move forward, it's the schedule and how do we be as efficient as we possibly can in our time in phase one, phase two and the OTAs. How do we structure that time schedule when we know we have four hours in phase one and phase two and we have six hours in phase three? How do we improve that time and become more efficient coaches?"

The chase for the 2019 season's title is under way.

Titans GM Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel speak with reporters at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. (Photos: AP, NFL)

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