While there are only four NFL teams left in the playoffs, the Titans are about as far removed as they can be.
A Super Bowl is totally out of the question in the foreseeable future for owner Bud Adams' team.
At present, Coach Mike Munchak has an inexperienced, unproven offensive coordinator in Dowell Loggains. The players really like Loggains, but likeability doesn't guarantee success. In time, Loggains may prove to be the hottest offensive coordinator in the league. But Munchak and the Titans don't have time to spare.
Munchak has an unproven defensive coordinator in former player Jerry Gray. Some players found Gray's system too difficult to get comfortable with and the numbers backed that up. You don't become one of the worst defenses in the NFL by accident. This year's defense gave up the most points of any Titans/Oilers team in history.
As a head coach, Munchak is unproven. He has been a loyal soldier for the franchise – first as a player, later as an offensive line coach and now as a head coach.
Adams has made it clear next season is a playoffs-or-else situation for Munchak. With two playoff teams in Houston and Indianapolis in the AFC South established franchises, it's a tall order.
Munchak had a surprisingly good 9-7 first season, but it fell apart at the seams this season, winning only six games.
Munchak's off-season hires deserve time to prove they can make a positive impact. But on the surface, linebackers coach Frank Bush had three of the most productive starting linebackers when healthy. He was let go.
Veteran special teams coach Alan Lowry has had way more success than failure with his special teams under Jeff Fisher, then Munchak. He lost a Pro Bowl return specialist in Marc Mariani , who broke a leg in the preseason against Arizona. There is no guarantee he can regain his speed and quickness for this season, but Darius Reynaud stepped in and performed at a high level.
Veteran place-kicker Rob Bironas had an off year for him, but still hit 25 of 31 field goal attempts and led the team in scoring with 110 points. Punter Brett Kern has become one of the best in the NFL and set franchise records for gross punting average (47.6) and net average (40.4). With some teams Lowry would get a raise. The Titans fired him.
The offense was inconsistent. Munchak must put his prima donna receiver Kenny Britt on a short leash until he can be trusted to become a good citizen and keep his nose clean. If he allows Britt to get away with some of his off-the-field escapades, Britt becomes a cancer in the locker room, if he isn't already.
Munchak is taking a giant leap of faith in Loggains. The Titans have placed their trust in quarterback Jake Locker to evolve into a franchise quarterback.
Locker had an overall quarterback rating of 48.1 this season, which ranked No. 24 in the league. Veteran backup Matt Hasselbeck posted a 48.5 QB rating, 23rd best among NFL quarterbacks. In comparison, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning had an 84.1 rating, topping all other quarterbacks.
New England's Tom Brady was second at 77.1, and his opponent this week in the AFC Championship Game is Baltimore's Joe Flacco, with a 46.8 rating, 25th in the league. But then, Flacco's team relies on its defense and the incomparable linebacker/hit man Ray Lewis.
In the NFC Championship Game, Atlanta's Matt Ryan shows a 74.5 rating, fourth best. Newcomer Colin Kaepernick has an impressive 76.8 rating, third best among quarterbacks.
It's a valid statistic, not a happenstance, that three of the highest rated quarterbacks have their teams one step away from the Super Bowl.
So Locker's development has to take leaps and bounds this season. Can he make that jump? He's a hard worker, who can run for first downs, but his passing percentage must improve dramatically if he is to measure up to his peers.
The Titans have to decide whether to keep running back Chris Johnson, who is due a large paycheck. They have to rebuild an aging offensive line. They must see to it that the defense grows some fangs in the off-season.
The front office faces the most important draft to date. They can't afford one mistake. It is obvious the Titans roster needs a serious facelift. Two years without a Pro Bowl or All Pro player is two years too many.
Free agency is also vital and they need to have both Bud Adams' blessing and his money. Adams can't put them behind the 8-ball as he did last year when he ordered them to drop everything and pursue Peyton Manning.
Everything has to come together for this franchise to make the playoffs. Mistakes must be avoided. Does Munchak have the right pieces to the puzzle?
The clock is ticking.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.