Patriots Begin Title Defense, Titans First Up

Saturday night the Tennessee Titans will visit the defending super bowl champion New England Patriots.  The Titans got here by beating the Kansas City Chiefs 22-21 in Kansas City in the wildcard round last week.  The New England Patriots were idle last week after finishing the regular season with a 13-3 record, securing the #1 seed in the AFC.  The winner will advance to the AFC championship game.

So the big question on many people’s mind, do the Titans even have a chance?  They are currently a 13 point underdog and a lot will have to go right saturday night to knock off the Pats.

The Patriots boast the #2 offense in the NFL, (#1 went down to the Falcons last Saturday night) Tom Brady lead the league with 4,557 yards passing and threw for 32 touchdowns.  His favorite target Julian Edelman tore his ACL in the preseason, so Brady has had to spread the ball around this year.  Rob Gronkowski lead the team with 69 catches, 8 of which were good for touchdowns, and 58 resulted in a first down.  First year Patriot wideout Brandin Cooks synced up with his new QB 65 times this season and scored 7 times.  The third receiver to join the 60 catch club is Danny Amendola, he brought down 61 catches and caught 2 touchdown passes.

One strength that the patriots have always had on offense is versatile running backs.  They need to be able to run the ball, catch the ball and block.  This year is probably the best group that they have ever had.  Superbowl hero James White had 56 catches out of the backfield, 25 of those went for a 1st down.  Dion Lewis caught 33 balls and Rex Burkhead 30.  Dion Lewis ran for 896 yards and averaged 5 yards per carry to go along with 6 TD’s.  Rex Burkhead carried the ball 64 times this year and found the end zone 5 times in just 10 games.

The way the Patriots defense started the season it really made all of that 16-0 talk seem laughable.  Through the first 4 weeks of season the Patriots defense had given up 128 points, or an average of 32 per contest.  As bad as that sounds, it wasn’t until week 7 when Matt Ryan and the Falcons came to town that the defense was able to hold an opposing QB under 300 yards passing.  That night they looked like the team many thought that they could be, and a reversal began.   No QB has thrown for 300 yards since.  The bend but do not break style of D that has been the Patriots calling card for years was back, they went 8 consecutive weeks without allowing more than 17 points in a game, they allowed in total 137 points over the final 12 games for an average of 11.4 points per game.

The defense may still rank near the bottom in total yards allowed (#29)  passing (#30), and rushing (#20), but in the one that category that matters the most, points allowed, they are #5.  You can move the ball, but field goals have never beaten this team,   The bye week has helped with some of the injured players, Alan Branch returned to practice this week,  Kyle Van Noy, who was inactive for a month before returning in the season finale although in a limited role should be good to go.  Lets not forget about the addition of James Harrison, released after week 14 by the Steelers after only appearing in 40 snaps all season.  He appeared in 27 snaps for the pats in week 17 recording 2 sacks and 2 tackles.  He should help the team by providing an outside pass rush, along with being able to hold the edge in the running game.

The Patriots will not look past the Titans, they are very good at staying in the moment. Demarco Murray has again been ruled out for the Titans, Derrick Henry did a good job in the run game against the Chiefs, he rushed for 156 yards with 1TD on 23 carries, he also caught 2 balls for 35 yards.  The Titans will miss Murray as he is the better back in helping out with the pass rush.  Mariota will be making his second playoff start, he got going slowly last week but turned it in on in the second half when he threw for 2 TD’s (1 to himself) and led the comeback.

The Titans will need to come out stronger in this one, the Patriots are built to get leads and then crush you.  Should the Titans fall behind 21-3 again this week they will not be able to comeback.

So the answer to the question, do the Titans have a chance?  Yes they do, just not a good one.  Pats 34-17