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Titans go out with a win and a whimper
The Tennessee Titans finished 2016 better than most expected, but still not good enough.
The Titans ended the season at 9-7 and technically tied for first place in the AFC South. But because of their shortcomings inside the division, it was the Houston Texans, whom the Titans defeated in Sunday's finale, 24-17, who will head to the playoffs instead of a Tennessee team that might have been the most capable to win in the playoffs - at least before Marcus Mariota's season-ending injury.
As it is, the Titans are left to ponder how things unfolded this season - especially their inexcusable 38-17 blowout loss at Jacksonville that eventually killed their playoff hopes - and try to build for next season when they should be one of the favorites to win the division title.
"Definitely, hands down," defensive end Jurrell Casey said of the theory that the Titans should have been the best team in the AFC South. "It was just one mistake here or there that let those teams catch up and win against us. If we clean those mistakes up, then we would have beat all these teams with a sweep. We've got confidence that we can do that. So next year, the South Division had better be ready."
Veteran tight end Delanie Walker didn't disagree with that notion either.
"We'd rather be in the playoffs. It's just a bad feeling in your stomach after this game, knowing that we probably were the better team in this division," Walker said after Sunday's season-ending 24-17 victory.
The Titans still have areas that need improvement - the secondary, special teams and more speed on the outside at wide receiver are all places where upgrades are needed for next year.
But given that the Titans won just five games total in the previous two seasons, a six-game improvement in 2016 should not be all that disappointing.
Tennessee is also hopeful that it serves notice that the Titans, who have victories over five of the teams that qualified for the playoffs this season, should be a definite contender going forward.
"We're letting everybody know that we're going to be the team in this division," said center Ben Jones, who left the Texans and joined the Titans as a free agent in the offseason. "We came into a couple of games with some key situations where we didn't execute, but we know we're right there, so we can make this division our house beginning next year."