Posted on January 8, 2018, by Travis Pulver
The Tennessee Titans were not expected to make it past the Kansas City Chiefs and into the AFC Divisional Round. They were supposed to fall victim to the resurgent Chiefs. They were going to have to be happy with just making the playoffs for the first time in years. But then they had to go and do the unthinkable. They shut down the Chiefs offense, overcame an 18-point halftime deficit, and won 22-21.
Kansas City recorded just 56 yards in the second half. Tennessee, on the other hand, did exactly what they needed to do. The Chiefs had been weak against the run all season. So, they ran Derrick Henry right at the Chiefs defense and sprinkled in enough passes to keep them honest.
And it worked like a charm. Henry carried the ball 23 times for 156 yards and a touchdown; Marcus Mariota added another 46 yards on eight carries. Tennessee scored touchdowns on their first three drives of the second half to take the lead (only had four).
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The defense held the Chiefs to four first downs in the second half; three of which came on their final drive after the Titans had taken the lead.
But their next opponent has a much better quarterback than Alex Smith and a much better offense than the Chiefs. The New England Patriots offense will not be nearly as easy to shut down. Nor will their defense give up the yards and points that the Chiefs did.
New England will undoubtedly be a heavy favorite, but so were the Chiefs. Upsets happen all the time. If they can control the clock and make a few key stops on defense, maybe the Titans can pull it off?
So—who’s going to win?
Tennessee is going to be hard-pressed to slow down the New England offense. Once again, they gained more yards per game than anyone else (394.2). They also had the second highest scoring offense in the league (28.6 points/game) and the second-best passing game (276 yards/game).
They aren’t the best running team in the league, but they aren’t bad at it either (tenth; 118.1 yards/game). Dion Lewis does most of the work and could have to do it again this week. It remains to be seen if Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, or James White will be available.
If they are, there is no telling how much they’ll be able to play.
The Titans have a good defense (13th in total yards allowed; 328/game), but teams were able to score on them (17th; 22.3 points/game allowed). They haven’t seen an offense quite like what the Patriots have either.
But if they can get their own offense moving, they may be able to slow Tom Brady and company down enough. Tennessee’s best shot is to get their run game going. They may not have Demarco Murray again, but if Derrick Henry can find lanes like he did against Kansas City, they will not miss him.
Against New England’s 20th ranked run defense (114.8 yards/game allowed), he just might be able to. In their near loss to Pittsburgh, the Patriot defense gave up 117 yards to Le’Veon Bell. Kenyan Drake gashed them for 114 yards when the Dolphins beat them.
For Tennessee to win Saturday (kickoff at 8:15 PM ET) they need to play a near-perfect game. They must be able to establish the run. In each of New England’s three losses and their near loss to Pittsburgh, the Patriots gave up 100+ yards on the ground. Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota could do it.
But it is hard to see the Titans having the kind of game they must have to beat the Patriots. New England has too many weapons on offense and the defense overcame its early struggles and finished the season as one of the stingiest in the league (fifth in points/game allowed; 18.5 points/game).
The Titans will put up a fight, but there is no way they win this one unless Tom Brady gets hurt. Can the Titans beat the 13.5 point spread? Maybe, but probably not.