Well Titans fans, the boys did it. They took care of a backup-filled Texans team last week and now find themselves in the playoffs once again, where the reigning Super Bowl champs await them. And unlike the 2017 Divisional Round matchup against the Patriots, a majority of Titans fans feel like this team can pull off the upset in Foxborough.
It was an unlikely road to the playoffs for the Titans. After starting 2-4, FiveThirtyEight gave the Titans an eight percent chance to make the playoffs. Titans’ fans had already started scouting college quarterbacks, trying to figure out the best fit for the offense and which one would have the best chance to bring immediate success to this team.
Enter Ryan Tannehill.
It was incredible to see the offense transform as Tannehill got more comfortable and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith got more experience calling plays. I’m sure you’ve seen all the stats showing the overall improvement of the offense over the last 10 games, but the play of a couple specific players has stood out not just in Nashville, but league-wide as well. On Thursday, the NFL named Ryan Tannehill as the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for December and AJ Brown as the Offensive Rookie of the Month. In the month of December, Tannehill threw for 1,140 yards, 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and finished with a rating of 123.3. Brown ended the month with 18 catches, 425 yards and four touchdowns, and has entered the Rookie of the Year conversation. And then there’s Derek Henry, who captured the rushing title last week on a 53-yard touchdown run. Henry finished the season with 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns, and was named the FedEx NFL Ground Player of the Week four times in the final six weeks of the season. Not bad for a King.
Looking at this Patriots team this season, it’s been a team carried by their defense. They’re tops in the league in most key statistics, and boast a secondary that could matchup against any passing game. But their offense has been devoid of weapons ever since the Antonio Brown experiment lasted for nine days. As Mike Herndon (@MikeMiracles) pointed out on Twitter, the Patriots are 0-4 this season when opponents score 20+ points, and the Titans’ offense has scored at least 20 points in 10 straight games. Seems to bode well for the boys in Two Toned Blue. I guess we’ll find out come Saturday night.
New England Patriots (-5) vs. Tennessee Titans
Game Time: 7:15 CST
Location: Foxborough, Mass. (Gillette Stadium)
TV Broadcast Crew: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Over/ Under: 44.5
Stat Corner with Matt:
With the emergence of AJ Brown this season, Corey Davis has taken a bit of a back seat and settled in to the WR2 role. Considering the high draft stock the Titans spent on him (No. 5 in the 2017 Draft), he was expected to come in and be the best receiver on a talented team. That hasn’t been the case. Davis has shown flashes of brilliance, but hasn’t been able to sustain anything noteworthy. That was mostly contributed to injury and inconsistent quarterback play over the last three seasons, but even with Tannehill providing that consistency, Davis’ production has been lacking. Davis hasn’t had more than four catches in a game since Week 7 against the Chargers, which is also the last time he recorded a touchdown. Titans’ fans may need to accept that this is the player Davis will be for his career, and as long as there’s always an AJ Brown-type guy in front of him, Davis should be able to contribute as a team’s second-best receiver.
But this week, they need Davis to act like a No. 5 overall draft pick. It’s old news at this point that the Patriots have an elite secondary. Stephon Gilmore was in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion until recently and Devon McCourty is still one of the best safeties in the league. Gilmore is one of the few cornerbacks left in the NFL who follows the opponent’s best receiver regardless of the side of the field, so it’s pretty safe to say he’ll be following Brown wherever he goes. Now, he is coming off a week in which the guy he covered, DeVante Parker, had eight catches for 137 yards in their loss to the Dolphins. So either the magical abilities of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Parker figured out this defense, or they had a bad game and Gilmore will come out pissed and shut down whoever is in front of him. My vote is probably on the latter, so I don’t expect for Brown to continue on his historic rookie pace this week.
Davis has two of his best games of his career against New England, the playoff matchup in 2017 and the Week 10 game last season. In those two games, Davis has 13 catches for 188 yards and three touchdowns. I can’t say I’m expecting a 100+ yard game from Davis this week, mostly because Tannehill relies pretty heavily on Brown and with the weather on Saturday looking like it’s going to be 35 degrees and snowy, we could see a bunch of Derek Henry. (Fun Fact: the winter storm that’s supposed to hit the northeast this weekend is named Winter Storm Henry. Not joking). But with Bill Belichick always trying to take away his opponent’s main strengths, look for them to try and take away Henry and Brown. They need someone unexpected to step up and perform, and that guy needs to be Corey Davis.
3 Things to Watch:
Action Jackson is Back: Cornerback Adoree Jackson said on Thursday that he’s “good to go” for the game against the Patriots. Jackson has missed the last four games with a foot injury, and the defense has suffered because of it. Jackson was playing some of his best football before going down with the injury, and I’m not sure, but I think it’s pretty important for a defense to be fully healthy when facing the best quarterback of all time. Just a thought.
Logan Ryan vs. Julian Edelman: Julian Edelman has been Tom Brady’s go-to receiver for a good part of the last decade, and this year is no different. Edelman leads the Patriots in receptions, yards and touchdowns and it’s not really all that close. Edelman is No. 2 in the NFL in receiving yards out of the slot (739), so it’s safe to say he and former-teammate Logan Ryan will see a lot of each other on Saturday. Ryan has had one his best seasons of his career, with four interceptions (T-11 in the NFL) and 18 passes defensed (3rd in the NFL). Make sure you watch the middle of the field when the Patriots are on the field because this battle will be a fun one.
The King Reigns: As I said earlier, the weather in New England on Saturday is what you’d expect from the weather in Massachusetts to be in January: snowy and cold. That shouldn’t be a problem for a team who has had a running back like Derrick Henry. Henry captured the rushing title from Cleveland’s Nick Chubb last week and after taking a week off, Henry looks fully healthy. With his performance last week, Henry joined some elite company when he became the ninth player in NFL history to have over 300 carries and average 5+ yards per carry. Others on this list include Ezekiel Elliot, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson, Ahman Green, Priest Holmes, Terrell Davis, and OJ Simpson. If all goes to plan, don’t be surprised to see Henry get at least 30 carries Saturday on a snowy Foxborough night.
My Prediction: Patriots 17, Titans 14
Listen. Does it break my heart to pick against the Titans here? Yes. Do I actually believe the Titans have a good shot to win this game, and maybe even win it easily? Yes. But I just can’t find it in myself to pick against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in Foxborough, in the playoffs. That being said, this Pats’ offense is a problem for them and their defense has looked more vulnerable over the last three weeks. If the Titans can continue to take care of the ball and not turn it over, I think the Titans win. But here I am, surrendering to the mystique around the Patriots in the playoffs. Please forgive me, Nashville.