For the first time in a decade, the Patriots will be playing on Wild Card Weekend, as they welcome the Tennessee Titans (9-7) for a Saturday night matchup in Gillette Stadium.
Even though New England is favored to win by 5 points, there are many pundits and analysts who believe that the Patriots Dynasty will come to an end tomorrow night.
Here are some things to consider entering this Wild Card matchup.
1. Can the offense deliver?
The Patriots’ offense has been inconsistent at best over the last few weeks, with a solid outing against the stout Bills defense in Week 16, before digging an early hole during a surprising loss to the Dolphins in Week 17. Tom Brady is likely itching to get out and play, due to the constant talk about his future in New England, and the surprising thought that he ranks last amongst all the quarterbacks in the playoffs. Unfortunately for #12, he is facing off against a team that features coaches who are very familiar with how he operates, as Mike Vrabel and Dean Pees were both part of the Patriots in the early 2000s. Brady will need all the help he can get if the Patriots hope to emerge victorious tomorrow.
Tennessee features a dynamic defensive line, which gave the Patriots massive problems during a dominant 34-10 Titans victory in 2018. The Patriots offensive line will need to be at the top of their game if they want to keep Brady upright. In addition, the Patriots’ receiving corps (mainly N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu) has to get separation and make plays down the field in order to help out Brady and Julian Edelman.
The Patriots will also have to focus on producing a solid rushing attack, as the forecast calls for precipitation throughout tomorrow’s game (which may make it tougher to throw the ball down the field). I believe that Josh McDaniels and his staff have to focus on getting Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead involved from the get-go, as it will help take pressure off of Brady and the passing game, and punish Tennessee if they opt to send blitz packages.
If the Patriots want to have the chance to defend their Super Bowl title, they will need to have a great outing by their offense.
2. Will the defense rebound from last week’s debacle?
The most shocking aspect of last week’s loss to Miami was the fact that the seemingly stout Patriots’ defense fell apart against an offensive attack led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, with Stephon Gilmore getting absolutely bullied by DeVante Parker throughout the game. For the first time all season, the Patriots’ defense let down the offense, as they were unable to hold their late lead, which resulted in the team losing their first round bye.
New England has a quick turnaround, as they face a talented Titans’ offense that features playmakers such as Derrick Henry and AJ Brown. Henry led the NFL in rushing yards, and is a downhill runner that will likely give the Patriots problems (as evidenced by their struggles against Baltimore, Cleveland, and Cincinnati). Due to the forecast, it wouldn’t be surprising if Tennessee opts to feed Henry early and often, which could wear out the Patriots’ defense and keep Tom Brady on the sideline.
One of the most surprising stories of this season was the reemergence of Ryan Tannehill as a viable starting quarterback, as he led the Titans to 7 wins after replacing Marcus Mariota as the team’s starter. Similarly to his head coach, Tannehill is familiar with playing in Gillette Stadium, due to his years in Miami, which could indicate that he won’t be as intimidated as your typical quarterback making their first career start in the postseason.
Stopping AJ Brown will need to be of the utmost importance, as the rookie receiver has flashed his big play potential all throughout this season. Stephon Gilmore and the other cornerbacks will need to bounce back with a vengeance to stifle Brown, Corey Davis and the rest of Tennessee’s receivers.
The Patriots’ strength has been their defense, and they will need to find their rhythm once again if they hope to advance to the next round.
- Ja’Whaun Bentley (knee) – Questionable
- Terrence Brooks (groin) – Questionable
- Jamie Collins Sr. (shoulder) – Questionable
- Julian Edelman (knee/shoulder) – Questionable
- Jonathan Jones (groin) – Questionable
- Jason McCourty (groin) – Questionable
- Adam Humphries (ankle) – Out
- Kalif Raymond (concussion) – Doubtful
- Cody Hollister (ankle) – Questionable
- Dane Cruikshank (illness) – Questionable
Prediction: Patriots 27, Titans 23
Here are my picks for the rest of the Wild Card Weekend.
Last week: 10-6
Bills at Texans: Texans
Vikings at Saints: Vikings
Seahawks at Eagles: Seahawks