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Patriots vs. Titans: 3 keys to the game, fun facts, prediction

Ryan Hannable
January 12, 2018 - 2:18 pm

After a week of off-field drama, it’s time to play an actual game.

New England will host Tennessee in the AFC divisional round Saturday night with a trip to the AFC title game on the line. The Titans are coming off a come-from-behind, 22-21 win over the Chiefs on the road last Saturday. They have lost six straight games to the Patriots, including the playoffs.

Many believe the Patriots will blow the Titans out, but of course anything can happen in the playoffs with one play potentially being the difference in winning or losing.

Patriots vs. Titans
Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 
8:15 p.m., CBS
Patriots -13.5, over/under 48

3 keys to the game 

Feeding Rob Gronkowski/running backs 

Tennessee struggles in defending the pass, as it was ranked 25th in the NFL, and more specifically has issues covering opposing tight ends and running backs. Before Travis Kelce was injured last week, he had four catches on four targets for 66 yards and a touchdown. Look for Gronkowski to be a huge focus of the offense this week. Also, the Titans defense hasn’t shown the ability to cover backs out of the backfield, so it could be a big passing day for Tom Brady with lots of check downs to his running backs. New England should have little trouble moving the ball against the Tennessee defense.

Stopping the run

The only real chance the Titans have of winning the game is grinding out a win on the back of running back Derrick Henry, who is starting over the injured DeMarco Murray. Against the Chiefs, Henry ran for 156 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots defense should focus on stopping Henry, and if Marcus Mariota beats them with his arm, then so-be it. Bill Belichick always takes away his opponents' biggest threat and this week it is Henry and the Titans’ running game.

Getting wide receivers involved

One of the biggest knocks against the Patriots offense is the lack of depth at the receiver position. Brandin Cooks has struggled with routes other than running deep down the field and with tight man-to-man coverage on the outside. The Patriots receivers need to do a better job of making plays outside the numbers. Getting Chris Hogan back will help, but they also need to get something out of Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt (whichever one is active, as likely one of them doesn’t play).

Fun facts

1. Including the playoffs, Brady has played 17 games on Saturdays. He's thrown 37 touchdowns to seven interceptions and the Patriots are 16-1 in those games.

2. In eight career games against Dick LeBeau defenses, Brady has a 68 percent completion percentage, has averaged 312 yards per game and has 19 touchdowns compared to three interceptions. He’s 6-2 in those games.

3. When winning the turnover battle in the playoffs in the Belichick-Brady era, the Patriots are 16-0.

4. Since 2001, quarterbacks making their first or second career playoff start are 0-7 against New England. This is Mariota’s second start.

5. The Patriots are 20-1 when scoring more than 21 points in the playoffs in the Brady-Belichick era. 

Prediction

Patriots 27, Titans 16

Tennessee hasn’t scored more than 24 points since Week 6, so we don’t see the Titans being able to win a game in the mid-to-high 20s. The Patriots offense hasn’t been playing its best of late and Tennessee’s defense is underrated, so we don’t see them eclipsing 30 points, either. The game could be close in the early going before the Patriots run away late, but don’t be surprised if the Titans cover.

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