The last time the Titans won a playoff game before last Saturday night in Kansas City was in 2004. They won a close one in the wild-card round on the road, in Baltimore (20-17, on a field goal with 29 seconds left), led by a tough, dual-threat quarterback (Steve McNair), with Jeff Triplette officiating. Next up were the Patriots, in Foxborough.
The Patriots knocked them out, 17-14. Tom Brady started that game, just as he’ll start this one in Foxborough, 14 years later. Sure, the similarities are interesting, but Brady going against Marcus Mariota and his one game of postseason experience in a stadium where the home team has won seven straight playoff games … that’s more of a bad omen for the Titans than history is.
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The Titans’ upset of the Chiefs disrupted the anticipated rematch of the prime-time NFL season opener that Kansas City won at New England. The Patriots not only have a respite from the chess match with the Chiefs offense, but also any chance of them taking the Titans lightly was erased by the explosive ESPN story about dissension involving Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft. The idea of bulletin-board material seems foolish under these circumstances, but never underestimate the tools Belichick and Brady can use to sharpen their focus. It should be razor-sharp here.
NFL playoff picks: Titans at Patriots (-13)
- Date, time: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
- Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
- TV: CBS
- Live streaming: FuboTV (free trial)
- Odds: Patriots -13; total: 47
David Steele: It all looks so lopsided on the surface, but the Patriots can’t overlook either the resourcefulness of Mariota, as he displayed against the Chiefs, or a Titans defense that shut the Chiefs out in the second half. Also hard to overlook, regardless of his ridiculous resume: Brady threw interceptions in five straight games down the stretch, six picks in all, after only two picks in the seasons’s first 10 games.
The Patriots can’t overlook that, but they definitely can overcome it. The Titans, like pretty much every other team, don’t have an answer for Rob Gronkowski, and the Patriots’ tight end tips the scales even when Brady is short on reliable receivers, as he has been most of the season. The Patriots also flip the switch on their running game this time of year, so between Dion Lewis and whoever is healthier among Rex Burkhead, James White and Mike Gillislee, they will loosen up the Titans D.
As for the other running game, Derrick Henry has to have another huge performance like he did against the Chiefs. The Titans need to have at least a little of DeMarco Murray, although that seemed unlikely early in the week. And Mariota needs his receivers to be near-perfect. He won’t have as much room for error as he did against the Chiefs.
These are all best-case scenarios for the Titans. In reality, the Patriots should dominate this game.
Pick: Patriots 34, Titans 18
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Vinnie Iyer: The Titans will be determined to do two things on Saturday night: Run well and shut down the run.
With the backfield now on Derrick Henry’s shoulders, the Titans need him to establish the run early to keep them in the game against the Patriots’ No. 20 rushing defense. This is the first time Mariota will be starting against Belichick’s and Matt Patricia’s defense, but a wrinkle that will help is the QB’s own running ability.
Brady has seen this type of defense often when Dick LeBeau was with the Steelers. As the Titans load up to stop the run and try to blitz Brady, look for the Patriots to counter by spreading the field with three and four receivers so he can find a quick-strike against favorable single coverage. That will include using Gronkowski off-line for a consistent mismatch.
The Titans will protect the ball and use the clock to make things interesting, but in the end, Brady will be more efficient with his possessions as the Patriots come through as the better red-zone team.
Pick: Patriots 34, Titans 23