The New England Patriots last played on Wild Card Weekend on January 10, 2010. They lost to the Baltimore Ravens in lopsided fashion by a 33-14 score. Is a similar fate awaiting the Patriots in this week’s matchup against the Tennessee Titans? According to the odds, probably not, as the Patriots are favored by 4.5 points, but they were favored by four points on the ill-fated January day 10 years ago, too.
The Ravens jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Ray Rice took the first play 83 yards to the house and Baltimore never led by fewer than 13 points after their second possession. The Ravens outrushed the Patriots 234-64 and outgained Tom Brady & Co. by a 268-196 count. That’s right. Baltimore had 34 passing yards in the game.
The Titans certainly hope to do better than that, but similar rushing success behind season leader Derrick Henry would go a long way in pulling off the upset. When all was said and done for the regular season, the Titans had 6.1 yards per play, their highest total since 1992 when they had 5.9 yards per play as the Houston Oilers with Warren Moon at quarterback.
Tannehill took over during the Week 6 loss to the Broncos and went 13-of-16 for 144 yards in relief. From that point forward, the Titans went with the former first-rounder out of Texas A&M. All he did as a starter was complete 69.6% of his passes with a 22/5 TD/INT ratio. Henry ripped off 5.9 yards per carry in the nine games he played when Tannehill started and had 12 touchdown runs and one touchdown catch. This was a completely different team and is a team that goes into Week 17 on a high note.
Henry ran for 211 yards to win the league rushing title in the 35-14 blowout of the shorthanded Houston Texans, who rested most of their key players in advance of this week’s Wild Card Weekend matchup with Buffalo. Henry was clearly a big benefactor of Tannehill’s play, but somebody also had to catch the football when #8 threw it. AJ Brown had a breakout season at age 22 with over 1,000 yards. Tight end Jonnu Smith had 29 of his 35 catches. Lots of different players got involved.
This week will present a really good test for Tannehill. It will be a huge test for Brown as well. The rookie from Ole Miss will have to line up opposite Stephon Gilmore. We all know that the modus operandi for the Patriots is to take away the opposition’s best player. Gilmore can play on an island against Brown and that will free up the other 10 defenders to try and stop Henry, who finished with 5.1 yards per carry.
No matter what happens with the Titans offense, the Patriots and Tom Brady need to be better when they have the ball. New England still finished with 420 points and still wound up second in the NFL with a +195 point differential, but it was not a good look most of the season. Brady’s completion percentage sunk to 60.8%. He still took great care of the football with only eight interceptions, but his 6.24 adjusted net yards per pass attempt were the lowest since 2013. That was the year that Brady lost Rob Gronkowski to a torn ACL after seven games.
Obviously Brady hasn’t had Gronk all season long and it has really stunted the progress of the offense. This season marks the lowest in completion percentage for Brady since 2004. In terms of full 16-game seasons, this is the lowest yardage total for Brady since 2010. His 24 touchdown passes are his fewest since 2006. As magical as Brady has been throughout his career, he has had a really hard time putting this offense on his back in 2019.
Julian Edelman and James White combined for 172 of the team’s 378 receptions. Mohamed Sanu has been a bust. Josh Gordon made a play here or there, but that didn’t work out. N’Keal Harry only had 12 catches in his seven games. Philip Dorsett had a low catch rate of 53.7%. Nobody outside of White, fellow running back Rex Burkhead, and Edelman could consistent catch the ball when it was thrown to them. This hasn’t all been on Brady, but he’s dealt with much tighter throwing windows and the receivers, Edelman excepted, have not helped at all.
The Patriots had 25 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. For good measure, they also had 47 sacks. New England ran into a lot of bad quarterbacks early in the season and really padded some numbers. The Patriots were first in average starting field position, but 17th in points per drive. Defensively, the Patriots were first in average starting field position against and first in points per drive against. They only allowed points on 19.2% of opponents’ possessions. They also only scored on 36.1% of their own, which really confirms how bad this offense was. The defense gave them a lot of golden opportunities and they took advantage of very few.
After the bye week, the Patriots had eight takeaways. Five of them came in one game against the Bengals. In the other six games, the Patriots were 3-3. If the Titans take care of the football, they are going to give themselves an excellent shot to pull off the upset. That doesn’t even mean points. That just means making the Patriots drive the length of the field.
The Titans only turned it over 17 times, though they only had one turnover in the first five games with Mariota at the helm. A more aggressive offensive approach meant some more chances. Handicapping turnovers is really challenging to say the least.
This has nothing to do with the handicap really, but don’t you get the feeling that this line will get bet all the way down to Patriots -3.5 or -3 and then New England somehow wins by 14 anyway? Betting against Brady and Belichick has not worked out well long-term at all. This Patriots team isn’t nearly the same, but it is really hard to believe that the AFC torch has truly been passed until it has. And the Titans are not the type of team that we would pick to beat New England. Baltimore? Absolutely. Kansas City? Most definitely. The #6 seed? That is harder to wrap your head around.
Pick: Under 43.5
I’m staying away from the side here. I wouldn’t even bet it if you gave me $20 free to bet on the game. I’d probably go buy a rack of beer and a Slim Jim instead. I can’t write off New England until I’ve seen it. I have every reason to believe that they are not nearly as good as their 12-4 record and there are plenty of reasons to question Tennessee in a spot of this magnitude.
But, I’ll take the easy way out and look at the total. The Patriots are first in third down conversion rate against and the Titans are eighth. They are 17th and 18th, respectively, in third down conversion rate on offense. This seems like a field position battle and we know Belichick can mobilize to take away Tennessee’s two best weapons. We know that Brady is lacking weapons. The Titans were first in red zone TD% and the Patriots were fourth in red zone TD% against. I’ll just look for a low-scoring affair.