NFL Playoffs 2018: Titans at Patriots

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For the Patriots

The Brady Bunch should be firing on all cylinders this weekend. Not even their self-inflicted controversy should give the Titans any shot. I am kind of surprised that there are others out there that feel the same way about the Titans. I do hear that ra-ra stuff about them coming back last week, on the road, in Kansas City. Do you really believe that have a fighting chance in Foxborough?

I think this may be the weakest defense that the Patriots have had in years, but in no way do I see them giving up 20 points to Mariota and a bunch of randoms running the routes. Besides, Tennessee allowed the Chiefs to score 21 in the first half alone. Even if it takes the Pats some time to corral Henry on the ground and contain Mariota’s scrambling, it’ll only be a matter of time because they aren’t explosive going down the field.

New England should stack the box against the run with a spy on the QB, plain and simple. Mariota will not make several tough throws downfield, let alone do so with sub-par route runners. I’m well aware that the Pats don’t have much of a pass rush, but neither did the Chiefs a week ago. They usually do, but aside from Justin Houston, 2 of their best pass rushers haven’t been playing due to injury. Yet, they still sacked Mariota twice and nabbed an interception.

How about the other side of the ball? Travis Kelce dominated the Titans defense in the first half before leaving the game with 4 catches, 66 yards and a TD. The next tight end up is Rob Gronkowski. Tennessee allowed 2 passing TDs and one on the ground in the first half alone. Unless Gronk gets knocked out of this one, Brandin Cooks is going to have his 1 on 1 opportunities to break open as Tyreke Hill did. The only thing that can stop New England’s offense in this game will be if the defense can’t get off the field.

Even then, Bill Belichick and company will likely force the game into the turnover-prone hands of Mariota, who had a TD to INT ratio of 18:16 this season. This includes his rushing scores as well.

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For the Titans

I expect this one to be a sleeper. I still can’t fathom how the Titans made the postseason, let alone how they actually upset the Chiefs. Injuries are a part of the game that I absolutely hate, nonetheless, they are a part of the game.

There is no way the Titans even make it a game if not for that cheap shot on Travis Kelce. The elite tight end’s departure really showed his value and it’s going to cost their quarterback his job. That’s right, Alex Smith is a guy that I expect to see in a different jersey next season. You may not recall, but he threw a dime that Albert Wilson dropped on 4th and 9 in the middle of the field. It was crunch time in the final frame and he heard the safety’s footsteps.

In the second half, the Titans were able to stack the box against Kareem Hunt and shift coverage completely towards Tyreke Hill. Marcus Mariota threw a pass near the goal line, it was deflected, and he caught he himself to cross the endzone for a touchdown. They were also a split-second away from having a 2-point attempt get returned the other way, but the refs made the right call by blowing the play dead when Mariota was sacked without going to the ground. And yes, Marcus Peters stripped Derrick Henry after he was down by contact. That was another correct call, one that called back a fumble recovery returned to the house by Derrick Johnson.

That’s how I really feel about the Titans. It hurts that DeMarco Murray is out again, but Henry is more than capable to carry the load from this point forward. That’s why they drafted him. They just don’t have enough on either side of the ball. It’d be a stretch for me to say I like any group, other than the O-line I guess. Mariota is a mediocre quarterback with flashy moments. His targets are nothing special, and neither is the defense despite an all-time great coordinator in Dick LaBeau.

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Prediction

In the middle of a playoff hunt, the Titans lost 12-7 in Arizona, then 25-23 in San Francisco. Basically, Derrick Henry has to have a career day to even make this a game. For one, it’ll keep the ball of of Tom Brady’s hands, and two, that means they are finishing drives on the road.

The cracks in New England’s armor won’t bring them down this week, just as long as the D can get off the field. The Patriots D ranked 5th in points allowed, so the Titans will not be the anomaly here. The offense scored the 2nd most points in football en route to 5 straight home victories leading up to this point, good luck slowing them down in their own stadium.

Patriots 41, Titans 17