Tennessee Titans' 2021 schedule: Tough five-game stretch could determine contender status

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The Tennessee Titans' 2021 schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate on Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET). ESPN’s Monday Night Football opener on Sept. 13 will feature the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET).

The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played on January 9, 2022. The playoffs begin on January 15, 2022, and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022, at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

Here's what's in store for the Titans:

Schedule

Sept. 12: vs. Cardinals

Sept. 19: at Seahawks

Sept. 26: vs. Colts

Oct. 3: at N.Y. Jets

Oct. 10: at Jaguars

Oct. 18: vs. Bills (Monday night)

Oct. 24: vs. Chiefs

Oct. 31: at Colts

Nov. 7: at Rams

Nov. 14: vs. Saints

Nov. 21: vs. Texans

Nov. 28: at Patriots

Dec. 5: Bye

Dec. 12: vs. Jaguars

Dec. 19: at Steelers

Dec. 22: vs. 49ers

Jan. 2: vs. Dolphins

Jan. 9: at Texans

Strength of schedule: T-13th, .507

Biggest takeaway

The Titans will have a tough five-game stretch starting with Buffalo on Oct. 18. Tennessee faces the Chiefs at home the following week. Then the Titans have back-to-back road games against the Colts and Rams. Finally, they return home to face the Saints to conclude their streak of difficult games. Those five games are against teams with a combined 60-20 record last season -- including two prime-time games with the Bills coming to Tennessee for Monday Night Football and the Rams hosting the Titans on Sunday night in week 9. That stretch will be a good gauge to see how the Titans look against some of the league's best teams.

One storyline to watch

The 2021 schedule is littered with games against former Titans players. They'll face Malcolm Butler when the Cardinals come to Nashville for the season opener. Free-agent defectors Corey Davis (Jets) and Jonnu Smith (Patriots) are on the schedule in October and November. Tennessee will face Desmond King in their two divisional clashes with the Texans.

What Vegas thinks

The oddsmakers have the Titans win total at 9.5. They should be able to get at least 10 wins after making improvements on defense by adding free agents Bud Dupree and Denico Autry. New offensive coordinator Todd Downing has to maintain the balanced, high-scoring offense that Arthur Smith developed before leaving to be the Atlanta Falcons' head coach if the Titans are to hit the over.

Bold prediction

The Titans will sweep their AFC East opponents. Going against the revamped Patriots and improved Dolphins roster will be a challenge. But the biggest threat to the sweep is the Bills but they have to travel to Nissan Stadium to face the Titans at home.