AFC Wild Card Preview: Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots
By Ha Kung Wong
AFC Wild Card: Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots
Time: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS)
Current: Patriots -5, Over/Under 44.5
New England Patriots
Keys to the Game
- Guess who has the highest Passer Rating of any QB in the NFL this season? Lamar Jackson? Patrick Mahomes? Aaron Rodgers? Maybe Tom Brady? Nope, none of those guys. It’s former Dolphins castoff, Ryan Tannehill. That’s right, ahead of both Drew Brees at 2 and Lamar Jackson at 3, Tannehill has a Passer Rating this season of 117.5, also having the 3rd highest completion percentage (70.3%) in the league. That’s the highest Passer Rating and completion percentage he’s had throughout his 7 year career. Sometimes, a change of scenery is all it takes. Plus rookie WR sensation, AJ Brown, of course. Brown has been one of the NFL’s most impressive playmakers, regardless of experience, averaging 20.2 yards on 52 catches, plus another 60 yards on three rushes, having five 100+ yard games and scoring 9 total touchdowns. Brown was graded as the ninth best NFL receiver of 2019 by Pro Football Focus, which is way ahead of the the top-graded Patriots receiver, Julian Edelman, at 46th.
- The Patriots defense has been one of the best in the NFL, and that’s the primary reason why they’re in the playoffs again. Sure, they slipped a but in Week 17 against the Dolphins, but the defense has proved all year that it’s up for any opponent, or at least any opponent not named Lamar Jackson. But I don’t have to reiterate the stats for you, they’re consistently top notch against the run and the best in the league against the pass. Bill Belichick loves to take key playmakers out of the game, to great effect, and has cover corner Stephon Gilmore at his disposal. Will he match him up one-on-one with Brown, or will he double Brown and move Gilmore to take away Corey Davis? The matchup between Tannehill and Brown vs. the Patriots secondary will be an interesting chess game to watch.
- But perhaps most important, due to the potential wet weather, will be Derrick Henry. Henry finished as the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,540 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, posting six 100+ yard games. As I mentioned, and as you can see from the stats, the Patriots are almost as good at stopping the run, being 6th best in the league. Henry has been nearly unstoppable of late, but for a late season hamstring issue that, although he looked fine in Week 17 as he rolled up 200+ yards, could potentially derail him this weekend.
Derrick Henry has 1,095 yards AFTER contact this year. That would rank 10th in overall rushing yards. pic.twitter.com/aTlhy1sCp8
— PFF (@PFF) December 27, 2019
- Of course, the Patriots have post season experience on their side, as well Bill Belichick, perhaps one of the greatest NFL strategists of all time. Plus they have Tom Brady, who’s clearly lost a step, but has started 40 playoff games, has the second most passing touchdowns of any QB in this history of the NFL and currently has the 7th most passing yards of any QB this season (4,057). Julian Edelman has been a complete warrior playing through injuries this season, with the 5th most receptions on the 4th most targets of any WR. But he’s not looked right in the last 3 weeks after incurring left knee tendonosis in addition to his season-long shoulder injury. The Titans defense has been solid, and they get corner Adoree Jackson back from injury this week, but are only 21st against the pass this season. If Edelman remains hampered, Mohamed Sanu and N’Keal Harry may have to step it up this week for Brady to take advantage.
Tom Brady: Best QB of the decade pic.twitter.com/5GUD4A10d6
— PFF (@PFF) December 30, 2019
- And let’s not forget the Pats ground game. Or maybe we should forget it, as it’s taken a big step back this season. Sony Michel was important in the Patriots Super Bowl win last year, but this year, he’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, ranked 40th among RBs (of those with at least 100 carries). It won’t get any easier this weekend with the Titans run defense being top 10 in the league. I expect more James White with his pass catching ability in the backfield to take advantage of the Titans’ weaker pass defense.
- Keep an eye on Special Teams with New England having the edge there. This is a close enough game that one Special Teams mistake can make the difference.
- I would say that playing at Gillette was an advantage for the Pats, but they’ve lost 2 of their last 3 home games, one to the Chiefs and one to the Dolphins.