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

The Pats welcome the red hot Fins to Foxborough!

It’s almost impossible to understate the importance of the Patriots’ next game, as they host the scorching hot Miami Dolphins (3-0) in Week 4. Coming off of last week’s absolute dud against the Lions, the Pats cannot afford to fall to 1-3 and 3 games off the division lead.

Here are some things to consider entering today’s game.

1. Matching up against Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins’ offense

The Pats’ defense’s struggles over the last two weeks has been heavily documented, as they could not defend against the run or the pass against the Jaguars and Lions, respectively. This week’s matchup against the Dolphins could either get New England’s defense back on track or set them back even further, as they face off against a revitalized Ryan Tannehill, Kenyan Drake, and the rest of Miami’s explosive offense. One of my major takeaways from last week’s game in Detroit, was that the Patriots’ secondary looked very disoriented, which enabled Matthew Stafford to easily dissect them and find his receivers. Bill Belichick and Brian Flores will need to find a way to limit the effectiveness of ex-Patriot Danny Amendola, and Kenny Stills (who has the potential to carve the Patriots down the field), as it will put extra pressure on Tannehill.

Thankfully for the Patriots, injured players Trey Flowers (concussion) and Patrick Chung (concussion) practiced earlier this week and are questionable to play today. The presence of both players would be able to reenergize the stale pass rush and secondary of the Pats. On the other hand, it was saddening to see the Pats put linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley on injured reserve, as he had been remarkable over the past few weeks.

tannehill v pats.jpg
(Photo by Matthew Healey/ UPI)

2. Can the the Brady Bunch find its rhythm? 

It’s pretty easy to blame the Patriots’ 1-2 record on the defense, but Tom Brady & Co. haven’t really kept up their end of the bargain either, as they have constantly struggled to move the ball down the field. As mentioned in last week’s recap, it’s become increasingly easy to defend the Patriots’ offense, as doubling Rob Gronkowski enables opposing defenses to have great success, with the other Patriot wide receivers being unable to get open. It will be vital for the Patriots to get James White involved early, as he can be a key asset for both the running and passing games. Tom Brady will also need to rebound from his putrid performance from a week ago, as him being successful is vital for the Pats to win.

For those who are wondering when Josh Gordon will make his debut as a Patriot, he is questionable to play today. 

tb v dolphins w4.jpg
(Photo by Matt Stone/Boston Herald)

Prediction: Patriots 27, Dolphins 19

Here are my predictions for the rest of the NFL’s Week 4 contests (excluding Thursday Night Football).

Last Week: 6-9

Jets at Jaguars: Jaguars

Eagles at Titans: Eagles

Texans at ColtsColts

Bills at PackersPackers

Lions at CowboysCowboys

Buccaneers at BearsBears

Bengals at FalconsFalcons

Seahawks at Cardinals: Cardinals

Browns at RaidersBrowns

Saints at GiantsSaints

49ers at ChargersChargers

Ravens at SteelersRavens

Chiefs at Broncos: Chiefs