The New England Patriots begin the road to a fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance on Saturday as they take on the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA.
Here are the AFC wild card odds from BetAnySports on this matchup; with a reminder that with Sports Betting Ultra, you can place wagers even after the game has begun:
New England Patriots -4.5
Tennessee Titans +4.5
Over 44.5 points -110
Under 44.5 points -110
One big difference between this Tennessee squad and the one that lost 35-14 in Foxborough to the Pats in the Divisional Round – aside from the fact that a former Patriot, Mike Vrabel, is now at the helm – is a quarterback who will give them a fighting chance.
I am a firm believer that Ryan Tannehill deserves the third Pro Bowl spot among AFC quarterbacks, right behind Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes. And let’s hope that after all the “injuries” play out, he gets invited. We talk about the “transformation” of the Titans. Well, he has been the transformational figure. The team has gone 8-2 with him at the controls, but it’s more than that. You have to understand that Marcus Mariota was benched because he wasn’t making plays and got sacked too much. Well, the Titans remained the worst offensive line in the NFL as far as sack rate was concerned (over 11%), yet Tannehill got such markedly different results.
He led the entire NFL in yards per pass attempt. And he did that by a FULL YARD over the next guy, Matthew Stafford. So you immediately know that he was stretching defenses out. And he led the league in passer rating as well. It’s hard to believe that the coaching staff in Miami – before Adam Gase got there – didn’t even trust him to call out changes at the line of scrimmage, or that his teammates last year in Miami were ready to stage a mutiny if he was kept on board (yup, that was reported by a Miami Herald columnist).
Perhaps most significantly, when he took over at quarterback, the Titans were converting 53% of their red zone trips into touchdowns. As we speak, they are at 76.5%, which is by far the best figure in the league. You have to be very impressed with that. And so that sets up a “strength vs. strength” matchup of sorts with the New England defense. Of course, there is also the “weakness vs. weakness” battle in the red zone, as Tennessee’s stop unit is 31st in stopping touchdowns and 26th in the league in scoring them.
But getting back to defense for a moment. BetAnySports patrons who have followed Bill Belichick through the years know that one of his favorite exercises is to take away the other team’s top offensive weapon. So we assume that he would have Stephon Gilmore against the #2 receiver, which with Adam Humphries out would be Corey Davis, and he would have rookie AJ Brown (who averaged 20.2 yards a catch with eight TD’s) double-teamed.
And believe us; we are anxious to see how that works out. But the Titans aren’t one of those teams that runs the ball as a complement to the passing game. They don’t run so that they can set up the pass. As one insightful commentator put it, they run to win. They run it 47% of the time, and only Baltimore, San Francisco and Minnesota (all playoff participants) do it more frequently.
And they do it with one of the best in the business. Derrick Henry is like a big 235-pound tank coming down the field. And he led the NFL in rushing with over 1500 yards. The Patriots’ “stuff rate” (the percentage of plays in which they hold the opponent to no gain or a loss) is only 20th in the league. And they gave up 4.2 yards a carry, which is not upper-echelon by any means.
So stopping the top offensive weapon is going to being extra challenges.
I’m not saying that the Patriots are going to lose this or be embarrassed. But the Titans play enough nasty defense and run the ball, which have been promoted as pre-requisites to succeed in post-season play. And Tannehill has overcome bad pass blocking to out up terrific numbers. As long as this team doesn’t freeze in the red zone, it has a chance. So we we’ll look for the trend that has seen underdogs cover the last eight times in the wild card round (coming into this season) to continue.
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