Wild-Card Matchup: Can the Pats stay alive against Tennessee?

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.

tb vs titans pwc19
(Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

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.

derrick henry vs pats pwc19
(Photo via the Tennessee Titans)

 

Injury Report:

Patriots

  • 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

Titans

  • 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

Music City Blues!: Pats get pounded by the Titans

TEAM

1

2

3

4

T

TEN 17 7 3 7 34

NE

3 7 0 0 10

The Patriots’ 6-game winning streak was snapped today in Nashville, as they were routed 34-10 by the Tennessee Titans (5-4). The Pats fall to 7-3, which increases the gap between them and the AFC leading Kansas City Chiefs (9-1). Tennessee was able to outplay the Patriots in all 3 phases of the game.

Here are some takeaways from today’s loss.

1. Tennessee’s defense dominated the Brady Bunch

The Titans entered this game as the NFL’s top scoring defense, and they did not disappoint, as they limited the Patriots to a season low 10 points. Mike Vrabel and Dean Pees were able to craft a game plan to get after Tom Brady and constantly disrupt his mechanics and timing. Tennessee halted any momentum the Pats’ offensive line had had prior to today, as they were able to frequently penetrate through the middle and stifle the offense.

Julian Edelman was one of the sole bright spots for the offense, as he corralled 9 catches for 104 yards and was frequently a security blanket for Brady. Unfortunately, Edelman took a beating throughout the game, and left the game in the fourth quarter due to an ankle injury. Josh Gordon had 4 catches for 81 yards, but a finger injury suffered last week definitely affected his ability to catch, as he dropped a key pass in the first half that halted a drive that could have allowed the Patriots to tie the game early on. The rushing game was utterly non-existent for the Pats, as Sony Michel had only 31 yards (off 11 carries) in his return from injury.

The Pats need to reevaluate their offensive game plan to ensure their success as the season progresses.

offense v titanw s10.jpg
(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

2. The defense got overwhelmed

Marcus Mariota had his best game of the season as he had 228 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mariota and Corey Davis (7 receptions for 125 yards and 1 touchdown) combined to make life miserable for the Patriots, as they were able to efficiently stretch the field at will. Following a series of remarkable performances, Stephon Gilmore had a clunker today, as he was frequently beat by Davis, and committed a few penalties.

The defense was not much better at stopping the run, as they gave up 150 yards, with Derrick Henry (11 carries for 58 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Dion Lewis (20 carries for 57 yards) leading the way for Tennessee.

It was disappointing to see the Pats take a step back on defense, but I have faith in their ability to bounce back from this.

pats defense v titansw10.jpg
(Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

3. Special teams was dreadful as well

Special teams was a disaster for the Patriots, as big kickoff returns and punt returns enabled the Titans to start drives with great field position. For example, the Titans opened the game with a 58-yard kickoff return on their way to a opening drive touchdown. At one point in the game, the Titans’ average starting field position was at the Pats’ 42 yard line, while the Pats started at their own 24.

Games such as the Pats’ Week 7 win at Chicago can show the impact of a great performance on special teams.

special teams w10.jpg
(Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

4. Inability to beat teams with familiar faces

2 of the Patriots’ losses this year have been at teams coached by ex-Patriots ( Week 3 at Detroit and today against Tennessee). Both games were similar, as Brady got constantly hounded, while the defense could not stop the pass or run. It appears as if Matt Patricia and Mike Vrabel are very familiar with the chinks in the Pats’ armor.

This factor makes today’s loss less concerning, even though the Pats definitely have their work cut out for them.

vrabel brady.jpg
(Photo via the AP)

Statistical Leaders:

Patriots

  • Passing: Tom Brady – 21/41 for 254 yards
  • Rushing: Sony Michel – 11 carries for 31 yards
  • Receiving: Julian Edelman – 9 catches for 104 yards
  • Defense: Kyle Van Noy – 13 tackles

Titans

  • Passing: 16/24 for 228 yards and 2 touchdowns
  • Rushing: Derrick Henry – 11 carries for 58 yards
  • Receiving: Corey Davis – 7 catches for 125 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Defense: Wesley Woodyard – 10 tackles (including 1.5 sacks)

 

What’s next?: The Pats head into their much needed bye week before heading to New York to face the hated Jets (3-7) on November 25th during Week 12.