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Can the Tennessee Titans do the impossible? March into Gillette Stadium on Saturday night and defeat the mighty New England Patriots to advance to the AFC Championship Game?
The Titans huge comback in Kansas City has the Patriots breathing a little easier, as they wont’t have to face the Chiefs. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee’s third-year quarterback, did a little bit of everything against the Chiefs in his first NFL playoff game, catching a touchdown pass that he threw (thanks to a deflection) and throwing the key block on the victory-sealing, first-down run.
However, there’s no reason to believe that the Titans can go to Foxborough and win, or even do anything to prevent the expected Steelers-Patriots rematch in the AFC championship game. The Patriots won’t hand away a game the way the Chiefs did, and they’ve have had an extra week to rest and get ready despite dealing with all the talk of a rift between quarterback Tom Brady, Coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft. No one knows better than the Patriots how to turn all of that into a motivational ploy in their favor.
Keys To The Game
The Titans will try to play smashmouth football with Derrick Henry, and try to get Marcus Mariota out on the flanks with some run-pass options. New England’s Josh McDaniels will call a smarter game than the Chiefs did against Tennessee. In other words, the Patriots will be significantly more balanced. In New England’s last two games, the Pats rushed for 340 yards and passed for 401 net yards and averaged 33:16 in possession time while winning two games by a combined 41 points. Dion Lewis gives the Patriots a running threat as well, along with bigger backs to go inside against Jurrell Casey and Sylvester Williams. Challenging the Tennessee interior defense rarely goes well for any team.
The X-Factor for the Titans is running back Travis Henry. If Tennessee is to have any chance of pulling off an upset against the AFC’s No. 1 seed, they have to dictate the tempo of the game. There is exactly zero chance the Titans are going to outgun the Patriots. The Titans can’t get into a shoot out with the Patriots or this game will turn into a blow out quickly. If Henry finds similar success against New England’s 20th-ranked run defense as he had in Kansas City, it will keep Tennessee in manageable down-and-distance situations. It will also keep Tom Brady on the sideline, which may well be the best defense the Titans have against him in the divisional round.
The X- Factor for the Patriots is cornerback Stephen Gilmore.The Patriots brought in Gilmore in order to deal with pesky wide receivers like Eric Decker – the 6’3 giants that win with technique and give smaller cornerbacks like Malcolm Butler fits. Gilmore has an athleticism advantage over Decker, while not giving up any physical advantages. If the Patriots can shut down Decker, who is one of Marcus Mariota’s favorite options, it will make the Titans one dimensional.
Prediction: Look for the Patriots to win this game in a close matchup. The Titans will keep it close with the running of Henry, but in the end the ageless wonder Tom Brady will find a way to win, 24-17.