Patriots vs. Titans: AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction


Between the three teams that were vying for that final AFC playoff spot - the Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders - the Titans are far and away the most difficult matchup for the New England Patriots.  They are the most complete team of the three.

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The Titans seem to play a type of football that travels well in the postseason.  They are physical.  They run the ball extremely well with Derrick Henry.  Henry was the league's leading rusher despite missing a game this season.  Most importantly though, they take care of the football.  They've committed 17 turnovers this season, which is seventh fewest in the league.

The Titans are also well-coached and disciplined.  They are one of just eight teams - along with New England - to commit fewer than 100 penalties this year.  Mike Vrabel should have them ready to go on Saturday night.  If the Patriots don't play a full 60 minutes, they'll be going home before the Divisional Round for the first time since 2009.  With all of that being said, I think people are overrating the Titans a bit.

I get it, people are concerned and frustrated by the way the season ended for New England.  Then you take a look at how the Titans played in week 17, and it's bound to drum up some nerves and negativity.  However, Tennessee faced off against what was essentially Houston's second string.  They took care of business against an inferior opponent, unlike the Patriots, but I wouldn't put too much stock into it.

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Let's not forget that the Titans finished the season at 9-7; tied for the worst record among playoff teams.  They also benefited from the Steelers choking down the stretch, losing three of their final four games of the season.  People love to point out New England's soft schedule, and that's fair; but Tennessee beat just two teams with winning records this year - the Kansas City Chiefs, and a Texans team that didn't play any starters.

Look, the Titans are good, and should give the Patriots all they can handle on Saturday, but there's a reason they are underdogs.  Fans are nervous about the Titans leaning on Henry, controlling the clock and limiting Brady's time on the field.  It makes sense.  He's their most talented offensive player.  That type of play is what carried New England to a Super Bowl last year; and it's typically how teams go on the road and pull the upset.

Let's dispel that myth right now though.  That is not Tennessee's M.O. this season.  The Titans finished the regular season ranked 30th out of 32 teams in time of possession.  Of their nine wins, they won the time of possession battle just once.  They ran the third fewest plays from scrimmage this year.

Contrary to popular belief, despite having the NFL's top rusher, this Titans offense is more about quick strikes than methodical drives.  They were third in the league in plays of 40 yards or more, and first in yards gained per completion.  That plays right into New England's strength, as the Patriots allowed the second fewest plays of 40 yards or more this season.

If the quarterback is constantly looking to make a big play, he can hold onto the ball a bit too long and lead to more sacks.  The Titans allowed the third most sacks in the league this season.  In 11 appearances, Ryan Tannehill was sacked 31 times.  In five of those 11 appearances, he was sacked four times or more.

There are going to be opportunities there for the front seven of the Patriots to get to Tannehill.  The Pats had the sixth most sacks as a defense this year, and they're going to need a few on Saturday night.

On the other side of the ball, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense will have plenty of opportunities to make plays.  This Titans team is physical, but they are not a top level defense.  They allowed the fifth most completions in the league this year, and were one of only nine teams to allow over 4000 passing yards.

None of these stats matter though, because this game is going to be won in the red area.  I think both offenses are going to be able to move the ball relatively well, and will have their opportunities to score.  It's going to be about finishing drives off in the end zone.

Tennessee has the number one red zone offense in the league.  A remarkable 75% of their red zone trips end in a touchdown.  However, Tennessee's red zone offense dips a little bit on the road, as they are only scoring on 69% of their trips; still a great percentage.  The Patriots come in boasting the fourth best red zone defense, as less than half of their opponent's red zone trips finish in the end zone.

On the other side of things, you have teams at the opposite end of the spectrum.  New England's red zone offense has been awful.  They sit at 26th in the league scoring touchdowns on just half of their trips.  Without looking at the numbers, I'm willing to bet this is the worst, or close to the worst, of the Brady era.  However, there is a silver lining.

As bad as New England's red zone offense is, Tennessee's red zone defense is worse.  I'm talking second to worst in the league.  That's right, 31 out of 32 teams.  Offenses are scoring touchdowns on 68% of red zone trips against the Titans.

I fully expect this Patriots team to bounce back from Sunday's loss.  I'm expecting the same intensity and energy they brought two weekends ago in a playoff atmosphere against Buffalo.  That defensive performance was an outlier.  They will get after Tannehill and force some turnovers.

New England had allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points at home, just once before Sunday.  If Brady and company can get to 21 points, I think it will be enough.

They will. Pats win 28-20.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Patriots vs. Titans: AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction
Patriots vs. Titans: AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction
Boston Sports Syndicate
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