The New England Patriots will play for the first time in 2018 as they host the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night in Foxboro. Fresh off a 13-3 regular season where they clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Patriots will host their eighth consecutive playoff game in the Divisional Round, adding to their already established NFL record. Or as some in the Boston media refer to it as, the annual “Tomato Can” game. This one will be no different.
The Titans have a legitimate Quarterback and are coming off an impressive 22-21 win over a very strong Kansas City Chiefs team, but outside of Marcus Mariota absolutely taking over the game, the Titans just don’t have what it takes to hang with New England. Despite all of the “headlines” and “turmoil” surrounding the Patriots over the last week-plus, I expect Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the rest of the team to come out, do their job and send the Titans back to the Music City with their tail between their legs.
Do you really think a Mike Mularkey coached team is going to come into Gillette Stadium and upset the best team in the conference? Yeah, me neither. Despite all the noise surrounding the team, the Patriots will be hosting a game next Sunday against either Pittsburgh or Jacksonville. I guarantee you no one on the Patriots is looking ahead to next week however, unlike Steelers safety Mike Mitchell who can’t get them out of their head and might find themselves bounced at the hands of Sacksonville this weekend. It’s what makes New England so great, they don’t let the outside noise or what’s being said by opponents impede them from getting to work and preparing for their adversaries. They will be ready to go and should quickly dispatch of Tennessee.
The Titans have some good weapons on offense, but if New England is able to contain Mariota inside the pocket they should be able to hold Tennessee’s offense in check. Delaine Walker could pose as a matchup problem for the New England linebacking corp, but I expect Matt Patricia to gameplan to take him away blanketing him in double coverage all night. The outside threats for Tennessee should be held under wraps pretty easily by Gillmore and Butler as neither Corey Davis or Eric Decker have shown any ability to take a game over this season. Demarco Murray being out is a big blow for the Titans as we know receiving backs have posed as a threat to the New England defense this season (see Kenyon Drake in the Miami game). Derrick Henry is a monstrous human being and can certainly pound the rock, but you’re not coming into Foxboro and beating the Patriots RUNNING IT DOWN THEIR THROATS! It’s not 1985, run it all you want, it’ll play right into Bill Belichick’s plan. The Titans have an above average offensive line and while the New England defensive front may struggle to get home on the rush all day, as long as they set the edge and contain Mariota in the pocket, they will be just fine in slowing down the Tennessee offense.
Now for the matchup everyone wants to talk about, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense against the Titans defense. Brady has historically owned defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his zone blitz scheme during his years running the defense with the Steelers. Brady has a 19-3 TD/Int ratio in eight games since 2004 throwing for 2,496 yards while completing 68% of his passes with a 110.9 Quarterback rating. Brady loves to pick apart zone coverage, is the best we’ve ever seen at identifying pass rushers with his pre-snap reads and his lighting-quick release and pocket mobility haven’t wilted despite being 40-years-old.
The Titans also committed a cardinal sin against Tom Brady, especially this week with all that’s been written and said about him in the media, when safety Kevin Byard said he wants to make Brady look like Blake Bortles. That’s as low as you can get in this day and age, and I guarantee Brady will make the young safety eat his words come Saturday. The Titans have a few play-makers on defense with Brian Orakpo and Jurrell Casey who could make Brady’s day a long one if they’re providing consistent pressure, but again Brady owns LeBeau’s scheme throughout his career and has been preparing for it all week. Brady will be helped out on Saturday with the return of two offensive weapons in Chris Hogan and Rex Burkehead, both of whom missed significant time down the stretch battling injuries. The key matchup will be Rob Gronkowski. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce torched the Titans in the first half and his injury caused things to begin to unravel for KC. If the Titans can’t take Gronk away from start-to-finish, then they have absolutely zero chance. Double or triple him if you have to, because if not he is going to eat them up all night long.
With all that’s gone on this week, the Patriots and their coach will be extremely motivated to come out and shut everyone up in front of all their fans on Saturday night. Brady will pick apart the Titans defense and a Mike Mularkey coached team isn’t coming into Patriot Place and sending the favorites to win the whole thing home early. Mariota could pose as a serious threat, but in that scheme with Mularkey, he has yet to reach his full potential. Take the Patriots to cover.
Prediction: New England 31, Tennessee 16