Titans coach Mike Mularkey and quarterback Marcus Mariota aren’t in awe of New England’s many Super Bowl titles as they prepare to head to the next round of the NFL playoffs at Foxborough.
Autumn Allison / USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee
Who has the edge between the Titans (10-7) and Patriots (13-3) in the NFL’s AFC divisional playoffs on Saturday night (7:15 p.m. CT, CBS) at Gillette Stadium?
Offense – Patriots
NFL MVP-favorite Tom Brady has passed for more than 4,500 yards with 32 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 102.8 passer rating, and he has historically excelled against Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz. Seven Patriots have multiple touchdown catches this season, led by a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in hulking tight end Rob Gronkowski (eight touchdowns) and speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks (seven). Running back Dion Lewis had 896 yards and six touchdowns despite not seeing double-digit carries until Week 6. The Patriots don’t make many mistakes. Their 12 turnovers this season are second-fewest in the league. Meanwhile, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.
Defense – Titans
The Patriots give up plenty of yards, but very few points. New England is ranked 29th overall in total defense, 20th against the run and 30th against the pass. But it’s fifth in points allowed, giving up an average of only 18.5 points per game. In another curious discrepancy, the Patriots have allowed six rushing touchdowns this season, the second-fewest in the league, behind only the Titans (five). But they’ve allowed the second-most yards per rush in the NFL. The Titans have the league’s fourth-ranked run defense (88.8 yards per game). All-Pro safety Kevin Byard tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions and added two fumble recoveries.
Special teams – Patriots
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has hit 37 of 40 field-goal attempts (92.5 percent) this season and is perfect on four kicks from beyond 50 yards. Titans kicker Ryan Succop is 35-of-42 (83.3 percent) and has hit two of five from long range. Titans punter Brett Kern, named second-team All-Pro, led the league in average and net yards per punt. Dion Lewis is averaging 24.8 yards per kick return for the Patriots and had a 103-yard touchdown return this season. Adoree’ Jackson is averaging 23.1. New England’s kick and punt coverage units rank among the best in the NFL. The Titans have allowed the sixth-most average kickoff return yards in the league.
Coaching – Patriots
Nashville native Bill Belichick is in his 18th season as coach of the Patriots and has the third-most wins in NFL history. He has led the Patriots to five Super Bowl championships in seven appearances and an NFL record nine consecutive division titles. The Patriots are the first team in league history with at least 12 victories in eight consecutive seasons. Titans coach Mike Mularkey is winless in five games against the Patriots and in six games against teams coached by Belichick.
Intangibles – Patriots
The Titans are playing with house money, but they’re winless in four games at Gillette Stadium and have lost six consecutive games against the Patriots, the longest skid in the 41-game series. They were 3-5 on the road during the regular season. The Titans are coming off an emotional 22-21 victory against the Chiefs in the wild-card round – the 18-point comeback marked the second-largest by a road team in playoff history and perhaps saved Mularkey’s job. The Patriots, meanwhile, are well-rested coming off a first-round bye. They’re 10-1 in the divisional round when coming off a bye in the Brady/Belichick era.
Patriots 37, Titans 24: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are going to have a field day against the Titans’ defense. But this game could be a lot closer than many people seem to think, particularly if Tennessee can limit mistakes. Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry should be able to keep the chains moving. But the Patriots are five-time Super Bowl champs for a reason. The Titans will put up a fight, but they’re overmatched.
Patriots 30, Titans 23: This is a case of chickening out because I have an impulse to pick the Titans to win this game. I think they can do it, and not just by getting all kinds of breaks. The Pats are not unbeatable, for one thing. The Titans are talented, confident and free of pressure, for another few things. I expect them to come out focused and making things happen on offense from the start. And then I expect Tom Brady to pull it out in the fourth quarter.
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